It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s tried to log in to the IRS’s “Get My Payment” website to check on the status of their stimulus check, or any business that’s applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program: the federal government could use a software update.
Many users who have accessed, or tried to access, the government-run portals designed to facilitate these programs—some of the hallmark initiatives of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package, known as the CARES Act—have encountered an array of tech-related difficulties. These challenges have shone a light on the technology deployed by the government—and prompted some to ask why glitches, crashes, and outdated turn-of-the-century interfaces are the order of the day.
The “Get My Payment” portal, for example, is supposed to allow Americans to track the status of their federal stimulus payment and enter their direct deposit information to receive their payment quicker. But users, especially in the wake of the portal’s initial rollout last month, found logging into the site easier said than done—only for some to realize that they just needed to enter their street address in all capital letters to be let in.
The SBA’s PPP portal, meanwhile, has also been hit by issues, with backlogs and technical challenges hindering small businesses and lenders alike. E-Tran, the system used by the SBA to electronically process loan application, utilizes a relatively archaic interface and functionality that has been overwhelmed by an unprecedented deluge of applications—leading the head of the American Bankers Association to raise such issues at “the highest levels” of the government. (Representatives for the Treasury Department, the IRS, and the SBA did not return requests for comment.)
At a time when scores of private sector fintech firms are transforming virtually every facet of financial services, the question is why the public sector is lagging so far behind in its own tech-enabled platforms—and why there isn’t more collaboration between the two sectors to build a more efficient, functional experience.