In this era of increased harassment and persecution of people on the basis of political viewpoints and…
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First Amendment Rights: Good News from the IRS on Donor Privacy

In this era of increased harassment and persecution of people on the basis of political viewpoints and First Amendment expression, there’s actually good news to report.

In fact, that positive development comes from none other than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which few people typically consider a font of good news.

Specifically, the IRS just announced a proposed rule to stop requiring nonprofit organizations to file what’s known as a Form 990 Schedule B, which exposes sensitive donor information not only to the federal government and potential rogues like former IRS official Lois Lerner, but also people who seek to access and use that information to target people on the basis of political belief.

As we at CFIF have long asserted, this welcome move will help protect the…[more]

September 12, 2019 • 11:07 am

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Focus on ObamaCare Website Glitches Mask Larger Threat Print
By Ashton Ellis
Thursday, October 10 2013
But for all its glitching, the malfunctioning face of ObamaCare threatens to mask a greater threat than wasted tax dollars.

One week in, and Healthcare.gov seems more like a make-work project for low-bid contractors than a portal to twenty-first century government.

After spending $93.7 million to build parts of ObamaCare’s federal government insurance exchange website, the results are in. 

  • Millions of people can’t create user accounts

  • The system can’t confirm a user’s identity

  • Crashes are common

  • Insurance providers don’t trust the site’s calculations about who qualifies for subsidies

  • Error messages plague the application process

  • Some drop-down menu items necessary to enroll in insurance are blank

  • Outside tech experts discovered vast amounts of unused software code sitting on the site

  • Of the nearly 9 million unique visitors claimed by the Obama administration, industry experts estimate only a population in “the low thousands” was actually able to complete the entire enrollment process

  • To compensate, people are urged to call a hotline and apply over the phone, but many times even the call center can’t access the relevant information 

Theories abound trying to explain the PR disaster. Some blame the government’s practice of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder, possibly tipping the scales toward companies that cut corners on quality to make a profit. Others point to mandatory certification requirements as under the Federal Information Security Management Act, which effectively bar smaller, more agile firms from even applying. 

Readers of Jim Geraghty’s “Morning Jolt” newsletter are familiar with Bruce Webster’s “thermocline of truth.” A thermocline is “a distinct temperature barrier between a surface layer of warmer water and the colder, deeper water underneath.” When present, it prevents oxygen from going down and vital nutrients from coming up.

Webster, an Information Technology consultant, applies the phenomenon to information flows in IT projects. “In many large or even medium-sized IT projects, there exists a thermocline of truth, a line drawn across the organizational chart that represents a barrier to accurate information regarding the project’s progress. Those below this level tend to know how well the project is actually going; those above it tend to have a more optimistic (if unrealistic) view.”

That’s a charitable way to explain the gross incompetence on display.

To get a sense of how badly Healthcare.gov’s designers blundered, compare a similar launch by the Bush administration. When Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, went online, Bush’s web designers estimated that peak usage would be about 20,000 unique visitors at a time. Yet they built the site to accommodate 150,000.

By contrast, Obama’s designers estimated 50,000 to 60,000 simultaneous users, and built the site accordingly. The problem: It got 250,000.

But for all its glitching, the malfunctioning face of ObamaCare threatens to mask a greater threat than wasted tax dollars. The biggest problem with the federal insurance exchange isn’t that it fails to work properly. That can be fixed. With enough money and security clearance waivers Obama’s Facebook friends and Google buddies could make Healthcare.gov into a user-friendly website that works well, if not seamlessly.

Doing that, of course, means building a government-run information system that can access every person’s health, financial and employment records from a variety of state, federal and private databases. It blurs the jurisdiction between agencies like HHS and the IRS, and collapses the distance between the states and federal government. Most importantly, it makes the most intimate details of an individual’s life searchable by a faceless network of bureaucrats.

With all the problems bedeviling Healthcare.gov, it’s easy to chalk up its failures as yet another example of government ineptitude. But if somehow the website’s designers fix the bugs, criticizing incompetence won’t be so easy. Then, as now, the most important critique of ObamaCare will be its massive intrusion into the daily life of every American...not to mention its cost – in more than dollars – to same.

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