Thursday, July 8, 2010

E-filing: The bureaucracy strikes back

It seems that whenever someone in government comes up with an innovative plan that, well, makes sense and benefits consumers, there is someone from the Department of Redtape and Inflexibility to squash the idea like a bug. Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson's proposal to create a free e-filing portal in Harris County is the bug and the state Office of Court Administration is the shoe, according to an article in this week's edition of Texas Lawyer.

Carl Reynolds, the OCA administrative director has called Mr. Jackson's plan "hurtful" and said it could scuttle the state's plan to create a single e-filing site (that charges a "convenience fee" for each filing). As things stand currently, an electronic filing service provider takes your e-filed document and files it with Texas Online who then files it with the district clerk's office -- and the user is charged a fee by each and every entity that "touches" the document.

Texas Online is operated by NIC, Inc. under a contract with the State of Texas. Mr. Reynolds is worried that Mr. Jackson's proposed free e-filing portal would "cripple the funding model for Texas Online." That's right -- the State of Texas is not concerned about the ease of filing documents online, they are only concerned with putting money in the pocket of the company hired to run the system.

And for those of y'all who espouse free and unfettered markets -- Texas Online is a monopoly created by the government. With no competitors in the marketplace and guaranteed payments from the state, what incentive does NIC, Inc. have to make Texas Online any more efficient that it is (or isn't, depending on who you talk to)? And don't forget that the suppliers you have of any given service, the lower the cost due to the pressures of competition (that's a good thing, right?).

And, by the way, Harris County accounts for an average of 34,700 monthly e-filings -- far in excess of the total filings in Travis, Dallas, Bexar and Hidalgo Counties combined (approximately 10,700).

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