Why not go after one of the thirteen different government agencies which, according to USA Today, "fund 209 different science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs – and 173 of those programs overlap with at least one other program." Better yet, why not one of the 1,271 government agencies that works on security and counter-terrorism? Or wouldn't the Bureau of Indian Affairs have been a more unique target? And how could they miss this one: the US Department of Agriculture, which granted $700,000 to the University of New Hampshire to study methane gas emissions from dairy cows? That investigation produced the earthshaking conclusion that, "Cows emit most of their methane through belching, only a small fraction from flatulence." OK, perhaps I should stop milking this theme.
I decided that I would conduct my own hypothetical investigation to try and answer the question of just who was behind this scurrilous attack. Mentally, I rounded up the usual suspects.
I instantly ruled out everybody's hacker of choice, the Chinese. Certainly, they would have no motive to stop the federal government from giving away more of the money that we borrowed from them in the first place, right? So, how about those fun-loving government disrupters who are aligned with "hacktivist" organizations? Naw… I just don't see them wanting to prevent aid from being given to distressed communities. The main-stream liberal community would be okay with narrowing the distance between the sources of government largesse and the people who actually need the money. Wait, could it be right-wing extremists? After all, they are pretty sensitive about the 78 to 81 card-carrying Communists in Congress—and I have no doubt that crew sees the EDA as yet another manifestation of Communism.
Try as I might, I just couldn't figure out who was responsible for this successful hack. On the one hand, the right must be pleased by the idea of shutting down government agencies one by one, or at least slowing the torrent of government grants. On the other, the left would be pleased by the newly responsive EDA's contact with its needy clientele. And everyone, I think, would be ecstatic that the employees of any given government agency could no longer socially network, or otherwise dillydally, on taxpayer time.
The truth is stranger than anything I can deduce from the facts in evidence here. The web-based tools of productivity out there may have some unplanned inefficiencies—Google docs, IM, email, etc—because on the other side of getting things done is having a wee bit too much free time, and that time can be spent using web-based tools of inefficiency. (There's also the notion that the speed afforded those with tools of productivity may be a tad faster than the speed of human thought and innovation.) So, my final, unscientific conclusion is simply this: sometimes chance is the catalyst of evolution. Perhaps the country's fascination with Mad Men explains the phenomenon somewhat, which for lack of any fancy way of putting it, we might call good, old-fashioned face-to-face, phone-to-phone, people-powered productivity.
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.