The New York Times reported today that the Federal government is using floppy disks for data transfer to the Federal Registry (see Slowly They Modernize – A Federal Agency That Still Uses Floppy Disks for the full story). The Office of the Federal Register (OFR) of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) jointly administer the FederalRegister.gov website. The website looks comprehensive and this post is not about the site. It is about the transfer of data using floppy disks.
Floppy disks, or diskettes, were developed in the late 1960s. The initial size was 8-inch, later followed by 5.25-inch, and finally by the 3.5-inch. The “floppies” became ubiquitous and were the standard form of data storage and exchange from the mid-1970s and into the 2000’s. Today, our grandchildren never heard of them and most computers have no way of reading them. There are a few exceptions in certain industrial products and other specialty uses, but they are for the most part extinct. But apparently not in the Federal government.
Input to the daily Federal Registry must be submitted on paper with original signatures. They also accept information via a secure email system, but agencies don’t have the systems because of their cost. The Times reported that Amy P. Bunk, The Federal Register’s director of legal affairs and policy said that “The Federal Register Act says that an agency has to submit the original and two duplicate originals or two certified copies.” Fortunately, American startup companies do not have directors of legal affairs and policy. All the agencies involved realize that they are dealing with outdated technology but none are able to act to get up to date. Ms. Bunk said that the Federal Register can not require it until Congress made it compulsory by law. There goes Congress again. It seems that all of the top U.S. problems have roots in Congress.
Unlike the issues with healthcare.gov, the solution to the inefficiency of the floppy disk and multiple originals signed with real ink is simple. One might argue it is trivial. There are many secure solutions for the transfer of documents, the most obvious one being through encrypted transmission and storage in the cloud. Unfortunately, I suspect that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation will run into a number of roadblocks — created by Congress — that will impeded the government’s ability to collect data about health outcomes that could save lives by giving doctors data on what works and what doesn’t work. Things find there way into legislation that prevent negotiation or restriction of services that provide income to various healthcare providers who have effective lobbying groups that our congressional representatives listen to. More to say about this ahead.