Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why outsourcing sucks: Xerox food stamp debacle

If you thought government runs the food stamp program, you would be wrong. Government outsources the management of the electronic benefit transfer systems to Xerox Corp., a company that paid its CEO $13 million last year.

Xerox apparently didn't invest its profit in redundant technology. Some sort of technology failure on Saturday -- nobody has really explained what it was -- caused the EBT system to shut down in 17 states. Millions of poor Americans were unable to buy groceries.

This is why we shouldn't cede control of essential government services to corporations.

The Associated Press reported on the chaos that erupted:
Shoppers left carts of groceries behind at a packed Market Basket grocery store in Biddeford, Maine, because they couldn't get their benefits, said shopper Barbara Colman, of Saco, Maine. The manager put up a sign saying the EBT system was not in use. Colman, who receives the benefits, called an 800 telephone line for the program and it said the system was down due to maintenance, she said.
"That's a problem. There are a lot of families who are not going to be able to feed children because the system is being maintenanced," Colman said. She planned to reach out to local officials. "You don't want children going hungry tonight because of stupidity," she said... 
...states affected by the temporary outage also included Alabama, California, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia...
In Clarksdale, Miss. — one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest states in the nation — cashier Eliza Shook said dozens of customers at Corner Grocery had to put back groceries when the cards failed Saturday because they couldn't afford to pay for the food. After several hours, she put a sign on the front door to tell people about the problem. 
"It's been terrible," Shook said in a phone interview. "It's just been some angry folks. That's what a lot of folks depend on." 
The whole debacle suggests Xerox was cutting corners somewhere to increase its profit, and poor people paid the price. Unfortunately, American citizens can't vote Xerox out of office. That's the real downside of outsourcing.

And if you think poor people shouldn't get food stamps because taxpayers can't afford to pay for them, perhaps you agree that taxpayers also can't afford Xerox CEO's $13 million pay package.

On a brighter note, the same glitch that caused the food stamp system to shut down also eliminated spending limits on some EBT cards in Louisiana. Here's what happened, according to the Christian Science Monitor:
When word got out Saturday that the EBT cards were showing no limits, card holders rushed to area Walmarts to take advantage. 
"Some people had eight or 10 shopping carts full of groceries," Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd said on Monday.
Now Xerox and Walmart are pointing fingers at each other. Heh-heh.