Price Tag For Lousy OSHA App: Over $200,000

Back in August, I celebrated the release of the wonderful new OSHA “Heat Safety Tool” smartphone app, which tells you it’s when it’s hot outside, and reminds you to drink lots of water.  I put my Droid phone at risk in the name of journalism and downloaded the app, which appeared to perform its deeply stupid functions reasonably well.

I should have spent more time poking the buttons before I shrugged and went back to “Angry Birds.”  A skilled Droid developer named Rich Jones put the Heat Safety Tool through its paces, and as reported by BetaBeat, he was less than impressed:

One might call it the kind of app that could have been created for less money by simply telling people to stick their head out the window before work. But this level of precaution is OSHA’s mandate and it’s good, in theory, to see government trying to leverage new technology.

Mr. Jones, an Android developer himself, took a much darker view. “Pardon my French, but I really cannot stress how bad this application is. Firstly, it isn’t actually capable of the function it is supposed to do. When I first tried the application, it told me that it was currently 140F in Boston. It is also extremely slow, it looks like butt, and it crashes all the time. It is completely horrible in every way. If I had to reproduce it, I’d say that it would take be about 6 hours at the maximum. At my hourly rate of $100, that’s $600.”

(Emphases mine.)  Having prepared that rough estimate of the application’s cost, Jones decided to learn the real price tag, a nugget of information that was not made public when the Heat Safety Tool burst upon the smartphone world:

He decided to file a Freedom of Information Act and learned, a few weeks later, that OSHA had paid $106,000 for this Android app and $96,000 for the iPhone and Blackberry versions.

The work had been done by Eastern Research Group, an environmental and energy consulting firm which itself contracted out the work to a group called Pixelbit creative, a digital design firm that apparently cannot finish their own web site. After reviewing the source code, numerous developers concurred with Mr. Jones that the project could have been completed in a day or two of work.

Why was the price tag so inflated?  Well, it seems the government had to pay for “the process of conceptualizing the app, figuring out the requirements, getting clearance from higher-ups, testing to ensure accessibility to all citizens, and a slew of other things that would never happen when creating a for-profit app in the private market.” 

But I thought the government could do everything more efficiently than the cruel and chaotic private sector!  That’s what they told us when they took over health care.

So, there you have it: a $200,000 multi-platform application that improperly duplicates the functions of a thousand free weather programs, and nags you about staying out of the sun and drinking water when it’s hot outside.  But remember, not a single penny can be trimmed from Obama’s trillions in spending.  In fact, massive tax increases are vitally need to provide even more funding.  Say, does OSHA have a Cold Safety Tool yet?