Why is government IT so awful?

A reader emails:

Maybe I can provide a little insight.  I used to work for one of the cabinet agencies (to keep from embarrassing them I'll not say which one) and I had one experience with IT which was, frankly, one too many.  I had to help re-design the office intranet site, which didn't sound so bad because it wasn't very intricate.

In any event, it took me *five days *just to hear back from IT about the plan.  They were noticeably reluctant for such a minor task.  To try and speed things along, I volunteered to design the site myself so all they had to do was upload the thing and be done with it.  Out of curiosity I asked what program they use - i.e. Dreamweaver, Fireworks...hell, even Frontpage.

The response?  HTML.  Yup, straight HTML.  As in, writing in each line of code and checking it a bazillion times over to make sure you didn't leave an open bracket somewhere.

Is it any wonder why they were so reluctant to do anything?  At the same time, this procedure was complicated by the fact that government websites have a whole host of additional regulations that they must adhere to.  For example, you can't have buttons on websites (at least, back when I worked for them) because the software that helped the visually impaired detect text on a website couldn't understand a button.  Needless to say, that forces the design of the website itself to be much more Spartan than private-sector sites.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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