The U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder, which everyone in the universe hates, cost taxpayers $33.3 million. So that’s great.
Last year I ran across this blog post about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s useless Android app. As the author put it, the app was “a steamy pile of shit.” So steamy, in fact, that he filed a Freedom of Information Act request via the excellent service MuckRock to find out how much the app cost.
Curious about MuckRock, and nursing my own long-standing grudge against another piece of contractor-built government software, in January I requested “the total cost of and the name of the company that developed the current version of the American FactFinder web application.”
Then, to demonstrate my unwavering commitment to relentlessly pursuing this outrageous squandering of taxpayer money, I instantly forgot about the whole thing. In the meantime, just three weeks after my request, the Census Bureau responded with the exact information I was after:
The name of the company that developed the current version of the American FactFinder web application is IBM U.S. Federal and the total $33,340,681.00.
Did you catch the part where it said the Census Bureau paid IBM $33.3 million for the poo bucket that is the American FactFinder? Ha ha. That was my favorite part, too.
As I said, I forgot about the request until today, signed into MuckRock and found the Census Bureau’s response there waiting for me since February. So kudos to the Census Bureau for a refreshingly prompt response, and to MuckRock for handling the FOIA process so smoothly on behalf of an absentee requester.
Now, about that $33.3 million. As someone who worked extensively with data from the Census Bureau during my 11-year career as a journalist, and who continues to tinker with it today purely for my own amusement, $33.3 million seems like an APPALLINGLY LARGE AMOUNT OF MONEY TO WASTE ON THE USELESS BOONDOGGLE THAT IS THE AMERICAN FACTFINDER, WHICH, AS ANYONE WHO HAS TRIED TO USE THE THING WILL NO DOUBT ATTEST, NO DOUBT WHILE SHOUTING OR TYPING IN ALL CAPS, NO DOUBT WHILE WAVING THEIR ARMS ABOUT IN A MANNER THAT COULD BE DESCRIBED AS COMICAL IF NOT FOR THE CRAZED LOOK IN THEIR EYES, IS A USELESS BOONDOGGLE THAT IS USELESS AND A BOONDOGGLE.
Or maybe I’m wrong and that’s a bargain price! For this:
Here’s the response the Census Bureau sent MuckRock:
Update, July 12, 2012: Here’s a response from the official Census Bureau blog, “FactFinder is More than Just a Website.” It includes an admission that “the American Customer Satisfaction Index scores for FactFinder results mirror the comments from our friends in the blogosphere, with our data getting higher rankings than functionality and navigation. But as we make improvements, those functionality scores are rising dramatically.”
Also worth highlighting from the post: “But if you think you can do better, you’ll soon have the opportunity. The imminent release of our API will let developers build apps tailored to meet the needs of any and all audiences.”