Imagine if you were the manufacturer of a product that was used by any number of large institutions, including the U.S. federal government, in daily business activities around which there were a number of high-profile laws to follow. Now imagine that your product was being blamed for the breaking of a number of these laws, and not only that, but your high-tech product, updated and upgraded on a regular basis, was being labeled as antiquated and of no use.
This is exactly the situation that IBM executive Ed Brill found himself in recently. In an attempt to point the finger elsewhere in the ongoing "millions of missing emails" controversy plaguing the White House, Republican congressman Darrell Issa of California claimed that IBM's flagship email suite, Lotus Notes, was to blame for the law being broken.
"I wouldn't want to do business with somebody still using Lotus Notes or still using wooden wagon wheels," Issa said.
Obviously, the Lotus Notes team at IBM thought that this was quite a mischaracterization, and so Brill went on the warpath, addressing the congressman's office directly as well as blogging about it himself and making himself available for interviews.
It worked -- the "it's IBM's fault" excuse is no longer operative (and incidentally showing the power of executive blogging, which I've written about in IW, to influence public discussion).
However, the basic question of what happened to millions of sensitive emails (including email trails leading up to the invasion of Iraq) is still unanswered. Despite the obfuscations and lame excuses being peddled to explain how it's OK for the highest levels of the federal government to not follow basic IT best practices (much less laws like the Presidential Records Act). It's ironic that those trying to explain it all away as "lost" emails are counting on the ignorance and credulity of the U.S. public to get a pass on this issue, when ignorance and credulity have themselves been hallmarks of the present administration.
And now that the "it's IBM's fault" excuse has been recanted, the government is claiming that it's too expensive and time-consuming to do its job (the quoted figure from the Bush people was 15 million).
This time, the smackdown comes from computer science professor and author David Gerwitz.
"That's just plain silly," Gerwitz wrote in an article published in the February issue of Outlook Power Magazine. "We're talking about mounting a tape or a disk and running a program. You can buy an IT guy for nearly a year for $50,000. But if it takes that IT guy a full year to run one restore, that's a dude you need to fire."
He goes on. "Also from the Wildly Exaggerated Claims Department, Payton said it would cost $500,000 to buy the servers to do the restores. That's quite off the mark. I just checked with the Dell site. A nice PowerEdge server with 4GB of RAM and four one-terabyte hard drives is $4,377. A half a million bucks will buy you 114 of these servers."
I first wrote about this manufactured controversy nearly a year ago, and since then we've heard nothing but bad excuses as to why the White House either can't or won't comply with the law.
Hopefully the questions will persist, as well as the refutations of unacceptable answers, until we get to the bottom of the situation. Although, with this bunch, who knows how low the bottom might be?