Rage against the machine

Technology has been credited – some would say condemned – for launching the demise of newspapers and other media. Now, the computer industry has been identified as the bogeyman in the problems facing a number of emerging programs at the state and national level.

Software and hardware “glitches” are being blamed for an array of failures at all levels of government, ranging from botched unemployment claims in Massachusetts to the debacle of the rollout of exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

Opponents of Obamacare are seizing on the problematic Healthcare.gov website as an indication of all that is wrong with the law. Supporters initially said the difficulties stemmed from the flood of inquiries from people looking to get insurance, and proved the popularity of the controversial law. But many, including President Obama himself, have admitted the system was not ready for prime time and it’s going to take weeks, if not months, to get the site running properly.

In our own backyard, the chaos caused by the overdue, over-budget website for the state’s unemployment office is just beginning to settle down but the fallout continues. The software, purchased and installed through a contract with the New York-based IT firm Deloitte Consulting left state officials with a black-eye, unemployed workers with no checks for weeks, and the company with a sullied reputation that is sure to haunt them for years.

Not long after the spotlight was turned on the unemployment system, the state Department of Revenue was encountering problems with its new system but immediately terminated the vendor – Deloitte. The company, while protesting its success in state and local governments around the country, has not had as unblemished a record as it would claim. And any agency that has retained ties with the firm has had to defend its loyalty, as seen with the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, which is in the process of installing a new $77 million upgrade to its license and registration system overseen by Deloitte.

The issue seems to lie in the problem that government is in the business of government, not information technology. For as much effort as public officials put into digitizing government services, it is still doing it with people who are, at best, on the low end of the skill totem pole when it comes to technology. The best and brightest don’t gravitate toward a government job when they can reap three and four times the salary – or more – working for a private firm that sells its wares to the government. Public IT workers are at the mercy of software developers who control the training and installation.

A number of industry officials as well as insurance officials say it was easy to see the problems in the health care website before it was unveiled to the public. There was not only a rush to get it online but the federal government had to start 36 exchanges for states that refused to start their own because of Republican opposition in their governors’ offices and legislatures to Obamacare.

There’s no easy fix and it seems whatever fix there is comes with a cost. (It also comes with a laugh, if you read The Onion.) But maybe that’s the price we’re paying for entering into this brave new world where everything is run by computers. In the meantime, federal health care officials and Massachusetts unemployment administrators have both turned to a tried and true method for enrolling people and addressing their problems – the telephone. Give them a call.

–JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

A Herald editorial acknowledges the need for new MBTA subway cars, but worries that Gov. Deval Patrick is setting the stage to “pour so much money into his pet projects,” like South Coast Rail, that the next governor will have little choice but to proceed with them, regardless of whether they’re in the best interest of the commonwealth.” CommonWealth’s Gabrielle Gurley explored this rail conundrum in Wednesday’s Download.

The state Ethics Commission has charged a New Bedford Housing Authority property manager with intervening on his brother’s behalf to stop an eviction from one of the agency’s units.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A city-commissioned review in response to a Globe Spotlight series on rampant exploitation of drivers and other shortcomings with the city’s taxi fleet basically says the city botched its oversight of this industry. Advocates for cab drivers says the report is flawed and doesn’t go nearly far enough. One interesting assertion from the review — strongly contested by cabbies: shift drivers make an average of $60,000 a year.

Paul Levy likens the way municipalities are dealing with the cost of their health insurance commitments for retirees to drivers playing a game of chicken.

A Fall River landlord who owns six apartment buildings that have been condemned by the city for missing and inoperable smoke detectors, faulty plumbing, and rodent infestations has been charged with 13 counts of child endangerment stemming from the buildings’ conditions.

A former Hanover assistant treasurer, fired last December after accounting irregularities were discovered, has been charged with stealing more than $42,000 from the town.

CASINOS

A state gaming commission report says Suffolk Downs is likely to pass a background check without Caesars Entertainment on board, but the report also outlines a number of strikes against the former would-be operator of the East Boston casino. The Globe details the alleged Russian mob connections that sank Caesars.

Boston magazine looks at the battle between Suffolk Downs and Steve Wynn — a contest Wynn doesn’t believe is a contest at all.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Esquire offers political lessons to the Republican Party from Pope Francis. That’s right: Advice on modernization, from the Vatican.

Former interim Sen. Mo Cowan talks about his front row view of the congressional dysfunction gripping Washington.

A Republican senator says the GOP isn’t ready for prime time.

ELECTIONS

On the heels of a WBUR/MassINC Polling Group survey showing John Connolly with a 2 point lead over Marty Walsh in the Boston mayor’s race, a Globe poll has Connolly with an 8 point lead, but a still sizable undecided pool of voters makes the race volatile with less than two weeks to go.

Connolly rips a negative mailer from labor unions backing Walsh, and in turn, the Dorchester lawmaker notes that Connolly went negative on a City Council opponent six years ago. Margery Eagan laments the lasting effect Ray Flynn‘s washerwoman mother has had on city politics, and argues, “You can’t fight class warfare if you’re both smart, powerful men in the same class.” Joan Vennochi offers a very similar take, telling Walsh backers to put away the class card and let the race focus on which candidate has a better vision for addressing the sort of growing inequality Don Gillis points to in his recent CommonWealth piece. David Bernstein notes that the pro-Walsh unions harping on Connolly’s law practice are resuscitating an attack that Scott Brown threw at Elizabeth Warren; clearly, it didn’t work.

Connolly and Walsh promised administrations reflective of the city’s racial makeup at a debate last night in Roxbury. CommonWealth reports the two candidates in many ways feel the city is as racially divided today as it was in the years after busing. The candidates also said there are too many inequities in communities of color compared with the rest of the city, the Globe reports. CommonWealth’s recent cover story provides a good backdrop for the discussion. Most news outlets, including the Herald, ignore the debate. Flash Wiley, writing in the Bay State Banner, says the CommonWealth cover story on diversity is another reminder that the racial climate in Boston won’t change until the economic pie is carved up differently. He says white folks aren’t content with 80 to 90 percent of the pie; they want all of it.

Meanwhile, The Bay State Banner analyzes why African American and Latino politicians are flocking to Walsh and notes that Mayor Thomas Menino appears to be quietly supporting Connolly.

Rep. Harold Naughton Jr. jumps into the race for attorney general, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

The Globe looks at the rematch pitting Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan against Suzanne Lee, who came within 97 votes of knocking him off two years ago.

CommonWealth’s Gabrielle Gurley explains the puzzling popularity of Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Globe profiles Greenfield resident Al Norman, who has tried for two decades to be Walmart‘s worst nightmare.

The Fall River Office of Economic Development wants to help city businesses avoid paying tariffs and is exploring setting up a Foreign Trade Zone that would give the city an exemption from the tariffs on imported goods and components.

A jury slaps Bank of America guilty for doing the hustle.

Uruguay moves to legalize the cultivation and consumption of marijuana in an effort to upend the drug trade in the country.

EDUCATION

CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas reports on the Renaissance Charter Public School, which has had an up and down academic record.

Yvonne Abraham says Westfield State University president Evan Dobelle and PR flak George Regan, who is directing a scorched earth strategy on his behalf, were made for each other.

HEALTH CARE

Lynn residents come out in opposition to a plan by North Shore Medical Center to move 100 psychiatric beds from Salem to Lynn, the Item reports.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton pushes for single-payer health care to reduce costs, the Lowell Sun reports.

Health insurance is a business, so premiums are high where competition is low.

TRANSPORTATION

The Quincy commuter boat terminal will be closed for at least six months while officials repair a dock that was damaged when a water main broke last week.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Berkshire Eagle wants General Electric to stop stalling and start the clean-up of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield.

Coal plants in New England are like zombies, reports CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow. A New York Times op-ed column argues that new EPA clean air rules aimed at coal plants will accomplish little, since they’re aimed at moving a market that doesn’t exist right now.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A 14-year-old boy is charged with murdering a 24-year-old, female math teacher at Danvers High School, the Eagle-Tribune reports. The boy recently located to Danvers from Tennessee and played on the high school’s junior varsity soccer team. The high school is shut down as students, teachers, and parents try to cope, the Gloucester Times reports. The Daily Beast examines how the story emerged on Facebook and notes the Danvers killing comes a day after a teacher in Sparks, Nevada, was killed by a 12-year-old with a 9mm pistol.

Superior Court Judge Carol Ball says she won’t impose a sentence of more than three to five years if former state chemist Annie Dookhan pleads guilty to altering drug test results. Prosecutors had sought up to seven years and Dookhan had pushed for one year, the Associated Press reports.

A Connecticut judge orders a new trial for Kennedy family member Michael Skakel, who was convicted in the 1975 golf club bludgeoning of Martha Moxley when they were both 15, the Associated Press reports.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

MEDIA

Conde Nast, the publisher of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue, says it is ending its summer internship program after being sued by former interns for being paid below minimum wage, the New York Times reports.