What the fax, man?

About two weeks ago, faxed requests for information to the Office of the Secretary of Defense began being returned to senders as undeliverable — not because the information was unavailable to the public, quite the opposite actually: the information requested is available in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The real reason is much more sinister: the office fax machine was broken.

Even worse, it would possibly be out of commission until November, leaving those who want to keep a watchful eye on our government with two avenues of making requests. The first is through a web portal that looks like it was made in the ‘90s and the other is through the mail.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense responded, saying that the fax machine was indeed offline for a while, and that if they didn’t have one lying around, they would have to wait until the next fiscal year begins on October 1 to even order a new machine.

So, not only is the most technologically advanced and well-funded military in the world unable to find — somewhere in its $31.8 billion budget for maintenance and operations — a few hundred dollars for a new fax machine, they are relying on a technology that is outdated and could be replaced by a paperless electronic service.

There’s nothing secretive going on — at least we hope not — that made the OSD break their own fax machine to stop processing FOIA requests. It’s a matter of catching up with the times. Fax machines are outdated and when that is combined with information that is supposed to be available to the public, it creates a no-win situation. The information can’t get out, and people get uncomfortable and feel like things are being hidden.

People don’t trust the government right now, and that’s not good for anyone. They are fed up with bureaucracy. They are fed up with not being heard. This isn’t something that the average person with an average life is going to care about, but government agencies need to do everything in their power to start creating a sense of trust. An irreplaceable, broken fax machine isn’t the way to do that.