2014-01-03 / Opinion

State Website Demonstrates Ineptitude

To the Editor:

The following account is a prime example of the classic FWA (fraud, waste, and abuse) that brings shame to politicians and government workers alike. It is but a microcosmic example of the challenges that need to be overcome by politicians, civil servants (note in particular the word servants), and taxpayers.

In simple terms, one or more state government workers have a website problem they neither know how nor want to fix (or they would have by now, q.e.d.).

Their superiors and the responsible politicians over them (I'm looking at you Mr. Mollis, Rhode Island Secretary of State) probably don't even know the problem exists. But it affects the livelihood of thousands of hard-working citizens.

The government workers either don't know how or don't wish (or both) to solve the problem. So they slap a sign on their door saying "Sorry, it doesn't work. We feel your pain. Either fix it yourself or drive to Providence or Cranston and stand in line or sit in my office to fix it. Have a nice day."

The technical problem is a relatively simple one, solved on a daily basis regularly by billions of websites around the world, but our state employees are too callous, indolent, ignorant, and (q.e.d.) incompetent to address the problem.

At issue is the Department of Health's website at https://healthri. mylicense.com, which handles license renewals for thousands of Rhode Island health workers.

The technical problem is that the website cannot handle calls from customers' browsers unless they are using one of four older versions of Microsoft Windows Explorer.

The larger problem is that leadership allows this technical problem to exist and has not addressed it in a timely manner.

The solution to this technical problem is not rocket science. It is referred to as using either "graceful degradation" or "progressive enhancement" and is a well-known and practiced technique taught by the most elemental web development curricula.

Billions of websites do it every day. Why can't healthri? Incompetence, q.e.d.

The fact that the Department is clinging to Microsoft in the face of the daunting need to accommodate other browsers is prima facie proof of its being a third-rate performer. As of October 2013, Microsoft Internet Explorer is a distant third (12%) behind Mozilla Firefox (27%) and Google Chrome (54%) for browser usage. And we won't even start to talk about Android and iOS.

They should have addressed compatibility with other browsers, especially Firefox and Chrome, ages ago, irrespective of specified versions of Internet Explorer.

Whining that "Internet Explorer 11 is very new and has not yet been tested with eGov" is no excuse. This version was released in October and was received on a two-year-old laptop in an automatic upgrade, so Microsoft thinks it's ready for prime time. Too bad that eGov is not. Your taxes at work (not).

Because of these limitations, the state's website suggests that we trek over two bridges (one with a large toll) to use their computers ("in Room 105A"). This is totally ludicrous and risible. And again incompetent. Where the heck is "Room 105A" anyhow? Providence? Cranston? Directions please? Why make me spend my time figuring out where to go?

The demand that we use a particular operating system again demonstrates the Department's incompetence; websites do not care about the calling operating system (Windows, Apple, Linux). Websites do care about the browser version. These people should know that.

In short, I am left with the impression that these state employees saw a problem that was too hard, so just slapped up the sign, closed up shop, and went home for Christmas. All in all, a deplorable comedy of errors and incompetence.

The solution to the larger problem is better leadership, oversight, and accountability.

I want that.

C. Andrews Lavarre
Newport

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