Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Is Spending $1 Million on Typewriters a Good Use of Government Revenues?

According to a New York Post article, "TYPEWRITE & WRONG" and a Yahoo! article, "NYC invests nearly $1M in … typewriters," the government of the city of New York is wasting nearly a million dollars on typewriters because it has not updated its systems to use electronic record keeping. This is a good example of how what is in one's short-term interest (not paying to upgrade the system) may not be what is best in the long-term. According to the Yahoo! article:
When they're not chasing down bad guys, protecting us from terrorism, or otherwise maintaining order in the Big Apple, New York's finest often find themselves scrounging around for—of all things—replacement typewriter ribbons. Remember those?

That's the scoop from the New York Post, which found out that the City of New York signed a three-year, $982,269 contract last year with Swintec, a New Jersey office equipment firm that specializes in … you guessed it: manual and electric typewriters. The city also plans on spending tens of thousands more in maintenance fees.

Turns out the "bulk" of the contract (according to the Post) is intended for the NYPD, which—besides catching crooks, handing out parking tickets, and generally keeping the peace—is tasked with the not-insubstantial job of protecting New York from another terrorist attack. (And as a New Yorker myself, I'm grateful for the service.)

Despite that tall order, the Post reports, New York City cops are stuck using typewriters—electric, if they're lucky—to pound out property and evidence vouchers on (incredibly) carbon-paper forms, which are pulled apart to create duplicates. (Other documents, such as arrest reports, have long since been computerized, the Post notes.)

Even worse, the Post story describes officers rooting around precincts looking for replacement typewriter ribbons after an old ribbon breaks. Greeaaat.

Of course, it's not fair to blame the cops themselves for burning precious time tapping out paper reports in triplicate; after all, they're just dealing with the outdated equipment they've been given. "It's very inconvenient—you have to find ink, you have to find this, find that," one officer told CNN.

Frankly, I can't remember the last time I even saw a working manual or electric typewriter, let alone actually typed on one. OK, check that—it was probably in high school, more than (gulp) 20 years ago.

And as far as the NYPD is concerned, we're not just talking about replacing aging typewriters with spiffy new computers; the real cost lies in replacing paper-based filing systems (in this case, for property and evidence vouchers, for starters) with new, digital ones.

Doing so saves time and money in the long run, but the initial outlay is always steep—and good luck snagging the funding from New York's dysfunctional state senate, which can barely be bothered to keep the NYC subway running.

Anyway, enough with my rant. Show of hands: When was the last time you used a typewriter? Or saw one in action, for that matter?

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