Another state website crashes and burns on day one

You’d think state government techies and their overly compensated superiors would learn by now, but no such luck. The much-hyped unveiling of the Minnesota Department of Revenue website to apply for an up-to-$1,500 taxpayer-funded rebate for buying an e-bike crashed and burned within minutes of going live Wednesday morning. The outage prompted this notice, postponing the state giveaway indefinitely.

e-Bike Rebate Application — Launch Postponed due to Technical Issues
The e-Bike Rebate application will not be available today (June 5) due to technical issues. We’re working with our external technology vendors to understand and resolve these issues. We’ll provide more information when available. We apologize for the inconvenience. 

The embarrassing episode immediately thrusts the e-bike online meltdown into the hall of shame of rollouts of highly touted state government websites that failed spectacularly despite all the fanfare. Who could forget the MNsure website that set the standard for government incompetence right from the start in 2013? A later audit covered by Government Technology put it this way.

At least three-quarters of MNsure enrollees surveyed by the auditor reported encountering “significant technical problems” while signing up for their health care — and that doesn’t count people who tried to buy insurance on MNsure but gave up in frustration.

A majority of respondents said they spent at least four hours on the enrollment process. Consumers were told to switch web browsers, encountered errors or had their applications get lost or stuck in the system.

“The entire website was a disaster top to bottom,” one unidentified respondent who successfully bought MNsure insurance told the auditors. “Disjointed navigation, basic website features found everywhere online were missing or broken, slow, error prone, different user experience across sections of the website–incredible that such a bad product could come from such a huge expenditure.”

Then there’s the disastrous Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) debut that malfunctioned for years despite the Department of Public Safety blowing some $100 million attempting to salvage it. The Star Tribune covered the fallout in 2017.

Many Minnesotans hoping to renew vehicle tabs, get new plates or transfer a title were again left waiting in recent weeks as the state’s new computer system for vehicle registration continues to be plagued by glitches and slowdowns that have occasionally stretched on for hours.

On Thursday, operators of the state’s 174 licensing offices watched as the system shut down in the middle of the afternoon and remained unusable until 7 p.m. Frustrated license office workers had to send customers away and endure long waits on hold as they tried to get help from the state. More system slowdowns were reported nearly every day this week and the week before.

Clearly the state’s latest website wipeout faces stiff competition from its predecessors. But it struck enough of a nerve with Minnesota taxpayers to trigger dozens of negative comments in the Star Tribune.

–I expected this to happen, but I tried to register anyway.

–This [Walz] administration is so incompetent they can’t even give away subsides without it being a mess.

–I kept hitting refresh for about 20 minutes. Got the application submitted and an acceptance email indicating I was the 1114th applicant. And now they want a do-over? 

–You’re kidding, right? Our highly efficient, effective, state government surely can run a simple program to give ‘free’ taxpayer money to people for such critical things as buying an e-bike (most of which are projected to go to teens and preteens who definitely NEED the exercise…

–Tech 101 says you stress test a new system before launch. Minnesota state tech gurus fail again…and again….

It’s not clear what the techno whizzes at the Department of Revenue need to do in order to fix the problem or when a functional website will be up and running. But judging from past problems with MNsure and MNLARS, Minnesotans anticipating a rebate may want to hold off on purchasing an e-bike. It could be awhile.