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I agree with this essay, but I want to point one thing out.

  > Any startup could design a system better than this
  > for $10,000. (For a frame of reference, PlainSite,
  > which is roughly as complex as PACER, has cost Think
  > about $1,000 so far.
This is shortsighted. I think hosting a government website is quite complex. They have very strict security requirements and maintenance requirements, with very little economy of scale. $25M does seem a bit high, but I can easily see their costs above $1M.

I doubt that $10,000 is anywhere close to the cost of designing the system. $10,000 is not even enough to hire one senior developer for a month. And the designers would have to have domain knowledge of the legal system, which very few web developers have; you'd probably need to hire lawyers as consultants. Plus, the article mentions that different courts and judges have differing requirements, so just figuring out what the system needs to do seems non-trivial.

Also, even if the system could be designed for $10,000, the yearly cost of operating it (hardware costs and personnel) would be significant, since all the data from the various courts would need to be entered daily, and someone would need to verify that the data in the system was complete and accurate. Plus, the system would need to be backed up and have redundancy and disaster recovery plans. You can't afford to shut down the legal system across the entire country because one data center loses power. We're not talking about Twitter here; we're talking about critical national infrastructure.

I'm a senior developer and I cost about that, at freelance rates. I could definitely design and build the things you mention in a month, providing the core functionality (a document storage system) is not overly complex.

And who said anything about the yearly cost of operating it?

(Slightly off-topic.)

> I'm a senior developer and I cost about that, at freelance rates.

For a month? Do you live in a place with really low cost of living?

For any place that's not New York, LA, or Silicon Valley, $120,000 is pretty solid money for a working professional.

How is 120k not considered good money in New York, LA, or Silicon Valley for a working professional? I live in New York and make in this ballpark and I consider it pretty decent money. Those cities are expensive, but I don't think so expensive that anyone wouldn't consider a 6 figure salary as somehow "not solid".

Do you live in a place where $10,000 is not much money?

I am a fairly junior programmer and make that much working as an employee. (And I was not particularly clever about job hunts. Just willing to move.)

For a senior freelancer, different standards would apply, I'd hope.

$10000 a month is a very good salary in Europe

Unfortunately, yes. That's why I moved.

What do you need to spend $10,000 per month on?

If I can't find anything better: savings.

But in general: More money is better than less money. Especially for essentially the same amount of work.

I use PACER all the time and I really appreciate the fact that it's really simple, even if it looks like I am browsing in Netscape Navigator.

The point of PACER is to get to documents quickly, which it does very well.

Are you kidding me? It's awful. I used it every week. Finding documents is a nightmare. There's no subscribe function. Trying to download a PDF is a ridiculous chore and even seeing a court docket costs money.

$25 million is pretty cheap for a government system. In the late 90's the Canadian government spent about a billion dollars (probably ~900 million US$) building a database of gun owners.

Last year they ditched the database for ideological reasons (over the protests of the public security sector who were finding it critical for officer safety).

That's government IT. Spend absurd amounts of money building something that you could assemble for next to nothing using off the shelf parts, underfund the maintenance, and then throw it away.

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