Friday, December 16, 2005

DHS: 404

I don't want to alarm you, but the Department of Homeland Security's computers are antiquated and faulty:

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services's systems have come in for particular criticism from outside analysts and government auditors....In some cases, for instance, information typed into one computer must be manually retyped into a second or third....

The agency's mainframes do not share data and are accessible only by some offices. An upgrade to Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system failed because of application incompatibilities, which meant one division had to undertake a cumbersome reversion back to Windows 95....

Even the bureau's two primary case-management systems, called CLAIMS 3 and CLAIMS 4, are accessible only to certain staff at certain offices. These rely on proprietary software developed by a string of contractors in the early 1990s, "do not share data, and are extremely expensive to modify," the ombudsman concluded. (CLAIMS stands for Computer Linked Application Information Management System.)
It'd be interesting to know the names of the contractors who designed this proprietary software, and how much they got paid to do it.

I suspect that systems like these add to the problems with quasi-Stalinist programs like the "no-fly list," which is currently targeting infants and members of Congress:
Sarah Zapolsky was checking in for a flight to Italy when she discovered that her 9-month-old son's name was on the United States' "no fly" list of suspected terrorists....In addition to babies, the victims of mistaken identity on the no-fly list have included aging retirees and public figures such as Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Since TSA can't or won't simply remove names from the list, it issues an explanatory letter to the victims of its errors, which is supposed to "facilitate" travel, but apparently has no effect:
John Graham, a 63-year-old former Department of State official, said his TSA letter had not helped at all. "I'm at a point now where I don't really care whether my name is on the list as a mistake, as mistaken identity or whether someone at TSA does intend to hassle me. The fact is, there's a total absence of due process," he said....

Peter Johnson, a retired bibliographer at Princeton University, said travel became "hellish" after he discovered his name was on the no-fly list in August 2004.

"I'm not sure if what's behind this is an effort to simply control people or if it's largely mismanagement and poorly conceptualized programming," Johnson said, adding that a TSA official had told him that there were more than 2,000 other Peter Johnsons in the United States who reported similar problems.
In light of the airline industry's ongoing financial problems, it's worth mentioning that Yahoo People Search lists 1135 Peter Johnsons, and 2123 John Grahams. Aviation officials estimate that the no-fly list has tens of thousands of names on it. How much money do airlines lose annually because of no-fly errors? And what's the cost to taxpayers of resolving these problems? Apparently, 28,000 people have filed applications for redress:
TSA spokesman Christopher White said the agency has seven people working full-time on processing applications to get on the cleared list. Considering the number of applications, that works out to less than 4,000 complaints per redress officer.
If each of these full-time workers could clear ten applicants a day - a laughable idea, really - it'd only take about 400 working days, or roughly two years, to correct a problem that should never have come up in the first place. Let's just hope these seven beleaguered officers don't have to make their corrections on multiple, unlinked computers.


Cervantes said...

Well, it's just one more example of the perverted priorities of our current administration -- hundreds of billions for war, hundreds of billions for tax breaks, off we go to Mars, but they can't scrounge up a few bucks for actually really doing something about security without screwing us all in the process.

BTW Phila -- thanks for the nomination, I'm really honored. You've been nominated for best commenter, I see, I assume Bouphonia is also in the running but I'll make sure of it.

Phila said...

BTW Phila -- thanks for the nomination, I'm really honored.

You're very welcome...and you've more than earned it, in any case!

Engineer-Poet said...

I'll bet that the PC's are being used as emulators for 3270 or 5250 displays.

Which does not excuse the idiocy of having to type information into multiple computers.  There has been emulator software which can be driven by user programs for around 20 years.  A single front-end could run several virtual terminals, read from multiple databases and update them all with information entered once.

The only reason this has not been done is incompetence.

Matt said...

PET 2001 ... heh, I remember using one of those.

10 PRINT "I RULE!!!!!!!"
20 GOTO 10