Reporting of records troubling
In this legislative and gubernatorial election year, Pennsylvania lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf were elated regarding their ability to complete work on the 2018-19 state budget prior to the June 30 deadline for finalizing the spending plan.
Both the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democrat Wolf painted a sunny financial picture that was in sharp contrast to the $2 billion-plus shortfall that greeted the 2017-18 budget process, as well as the big shortfalls that wreaked havoc over budget preparation for the two previous fiscal years.
With this year’s budget in place, few commonwealth residents have been giving much thought to what not-so-sunny facts might be under the proverbial radar within Harrisburg’s governmental chambers and the various state departments that carry out day-to-day state operations.
Mirror readers got a troubling glimpse last Sunday by way of an Associated Press article “Pennsylvania reveals cyber hack in birth, death records.”
Although very troubling, it was not the cyber hack that should have triggered the most concern within readers. Instead, it was what the article revealed about the process of obtaining birth and death records from the state.
What’s been hidden from most Pennsylvania residents, except those who have needed to obtain such documentation, is that the state hasn’t had the money to make that process as efficient as it should be. Those needing the documentation, especially those seeking documentation regarding births and deaths that occurred prior to 1967, routinely wait inordinate amounts of time for that information.
The question becomes what other state operations continue to run ineffectively because of the state’s financial picture that has been painted now as more rosy but really doesn’t stack up to what it’s purported to be.
Regarding birth and death records, last Sunday’s AP article reported the state’s estimate that up to three weeks are required to fill online requests for birth certificates for those born since 1967 but 15 to 30 weeks for older records.
According to the article, obtaining death records currently involves a wait of nine to 36 weeks.
The article quoted a Department of Health spokeswoman who said that the situation has existed for years, not months, and blamed the chronic backlog on the volume of requests coupled with insufficient manpower.
Although the new state budget that took effect July 1 contains $2.3 million to hire several dozen people to speed up processing of information requests, the point that remains is that state government has conveniently not been discussing needs that were not being addressed because of the financial quandary that has existed and the lack of will to take meaningful steps to address it.
Birth and death records are one front, but on how many other fronts might a similar situation exist?
Efficiency prevails regarding the driver’s license and vehicle-registration process; the current birth-and-death-records situations require a commitment to bring those services up to 21st-century standards.
State officials told the AP that the cyber hack had involved someone with inside knowledge making unauthorized “cosmetic modifications” but that no breach of data occurred and no records were viewed, altered, created or deleted.
Officials said the intrusion triggered an extensive cyber investigation.
All considered, lawmakers and the governor need to push for a detailed report about how and why the timetable for obtaining birth and death records deteriorated so badly and disclose whether management has been part of the problem.
Acknowledge the troubles lurking amid the budget elation.