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Monday, April 2, 2012

A Thought Or Two Upon Accessing The 1940 Census (Or Failure To Do So)

I started trying to look at the 1940 census at around 9:30 AM EDT. For the past 10 hours or so, I’ve been unsuccessful in actually accessing the census images through the NARA.GOV website.  

 Of course, the census images are not actually on the NARA.GOV site; that’s only the portal for access.  In fact, they’re being delivered by, a third party private sector entity that is owned – whole and entire – by a Silicon Valley company called  Inflection.  Inflection describes itself as a company with “…over 14 billion public records in our databases.”  Inflection was created to be a “for-profit” entity, not a public service venture.  NARA gave them a contract to host and provide access to the 1940 census images.

Today, actually getting the 1940 census images to load through that NARA portal site is problematic, at best. 

Of course, that was not designed to be the case.  After all, this is what is known as a “public-private partnership”.   In other words, the public sector (NARA) turned to the private sector (Inflection, and their wholly-owned subsidiary to provide internet delivery of the 1940 census images.  This was supposed to eliminate the inefficiencies of government.   If you’ve been listening to the news, you’re supposed to believe that government is wildly inefficient, grossly incompetent, corrupt and wasteful.   

You betcha.

I’m pretty familiar with the “public-private partnership” concept.  Many years ago, I was the local administrator of a US Department of Labor-funded program called the Jobs Training Partnership Act (JTPA).  This was designed to be a “public-private partnership” that produced jobs for those in need (i.e., undereducated, low-skilled, etc.)  in the private sector.  It provided training, counseling, support services and a host of other things.   

Problem was, the private sector wasn’t much interested in hiring these folks, no matter what their skill level or training actually was.  They LOVED the idea of being paid to provide some sort of training, but were not particularly enthused by the HIRING part, since that would cost money.

If you’ve been listening to the national dialogues lately, you’re supposed to believe that the “public sector” – i.e., the government – is grossly incompetent and unable to provide any kind of public service in a timely or cost-effective manner.  You’re supposed to believe that the private sector – driven by the profit motive – will provide better and cheaper services. After all, free market competition solves everything.

Out of this concept, the “public-private partnership” idea was born.  After all, the concept is based upon the belief that everything is better in the private sector.  Cheaper, more efficient, you name it.

So, if you’re having difficulty accessing the census images through the public-private partnership that NARA set up, please remember that the fault does not rest with NARA’s servers.  The fault is not the fault of the Feds or NARA's employees.

Besides, if you can’t get the 1940 census images today, don’t worry.  There’s always tomorrow or next week. It’ll be a whole lot less busy sometime in May or June, probably.  The private sector folks know that you’ll be back. 

After all, it’s only the census.  It’s not like it’s important in the real private sector for-profit world.

(That's the "Your call is important to us..." mentality...)