Dear Bureaucrat, our computer system is useless!

Dear Bureaucrat,

My agency uses an on-line system for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, but the system is useless. Half the people who need to work on a request don’t have passwords for the system, so I need to constantly email and phone them about what they need to do. There are review and approval steps that my agency requires, but aren’t part of the workflow in the system, so I have to remember who needs to see what, whether they’ve responded, etc. Every step I have to do that the system pretends doesn’t exist is another chance for errors to creep in, which I get blamed for. I’ve talked to IT about matching the system to what we actually need to do, but they say the development contract ended years ago, so there’s no budget for changes. What can I do?

Charlie “Modern Times” C.

Dear Charlie,

Occasionally an agency is forced to admit that a system development project failed. But your problem in more common—the system is bought, paid for, and officially a successful implementation. It just doesn’t do what the workers need to get their jobs done.

The fix is that workers create our own solutions to do what the official system doesn’t. Spreadsheets are the most common form, but people also use templates, macros, web-based file sharing services, etc. IT departments call this “shadow IT” and point to the security risks. I prefer the term “cuff system” which goes back to when bookkeepers would write a number on their shirt cuff to remember a figure that wasn’t in the official ledger. As to security, the data breaches that have made headlines were from official enterprise systems. Cuff systems done properly can beat that record.

Look for ways to… Read the rest in Federal Times:

Read the Dear Bureaucrat columns in Federal Times

Dear Bureaucrat, I want to be a crony!
(hint: adopt the appointee’s short time horizon)

Dear Bureaucrat, I want my job to give me rules. Am I crazy?
(hint: make some green tape)

Dear Bureaucrat, Should I worry about my annual evaluation?
(hint: build the official record that you’re great)

Dear Bureaucrat, I’m being micromanaged!
(hint: don’t surprise the boss)

Dear Bureaucrat, should I quit my job to launch a startup?
(hint: quit no, launch yes)

Dear Bureaucrat, our computer system is useless!
(hint: roll your own, even if you can’t code)

Dear Bureaucrat, my boss doesn’t reward me.
(hint: let a little crap hit the fan)

Dear Bureaucrat, should I get an MPA?
(hint: not necessarily)

Dear Bureaucrat, my job wants me to lie.
(hint: there’s the idealistic way, the popular way, or the subversive way)
The link to Wong and Gerras’ paper in the column is incorrect. The correct link is