Saturday, March 20, 2010


by Ben Small

Do we as mystery writers give our cops too much technology? Watch CSI, and one would think nobody ever gets away. But as the Crime Lab Project  has discovered, while the technology technically exists to match these television feats, few people or cases have access to it.

Thursday's NY Times article (FBI Computer Setbacks) noting the failure of the decade-long project to bring the FBI's computer programs up to snuff, considered by some to be a matter of national security, probably should have been predicted. I've seen similar issues at the corporate level. Everybody wants to be a designer, to chase technology is a specialized way, a wish festival. So the designers tumble on, rolling with the requests for bolt-on applications, more security levels as seats (users to the techno-ignorant) and features. The programs get so bloated and complex, nobody can run them, and even if they could, they couldn't afford to.

Look how much chasing Apple has cost your family.  Imagine hundreds of criminal-techno-experts with that Apple stare, that I WANT glow in the eye.

In the corporate world, it doesn't take long before technology costs get so high, the boss threatens to can the project unless shortcuts are built in. The results are usually a slimmed down plan, practical in application and need, and edicts on spending. Blow the budget, don't come back.

That doesn't work at the federal level, especially so when the end product must protect us from all sorts of unknown evils. The projects get bigger, complexities abounding, costs spiraling out of control.

And then they blame the contractor -- there's always a contractor, the government doesn't build anything... except itself.

I promise: There will be an investigation. And it will be revealed during that investigation that the design changed by the moment as more voices tuned in and ideas fermented, spewing cost gasses to the bursting point.

And of course, nobody thought of the user, the fed or cop on the beat, the poor schlub who has to send an overnight mail package on a 9/11 bomber because he has no computer, fax or scanner.

In family or in business, somebody says stop, look for more efficient ways to meet technology needs. But the federal government operates differently. Don't believe me? Take a gander at DOD procurement regulations, or NASA's. And then imagine connections to both of these agencies, their complications, the conflicting and always changing technological systems they've adopted.

Gives me a headache even thinking about it.


Morgan Mandel said...

I'm not savvy enough to understand all that's going on, but generally speaking, people will order things if they don't have to worry about paying for them themselves.

Morgan Mandel

Earl Staggs said...

Sad, but true, Ben. Sometimes the fix turns out to be worse than the original problem.

Chester Campbell said...

So sad but true, Ben. And I fear we're about to get the same treatment in spades with the new health care debacle. It'll be such a massive mess nobody will know how to fix it. And they'll blame the insurance companies instead of the ideologues who passed it.