State Agencies Are Eventually Consistent

It always seems to take awhile to get resolve an issue with a state agency. They might send you a letter that you owe them taxes. You might respond to said letter and pay the taxes. You might then receive another letter…for the same taxes you already paid.

Why is that?

The way to think about state agencies and—by proxy—your tax accounts, is that they are eventually consistent. Changes can happen to the balance of your account, but what you observe (e.g. a letter) might not accurately reflect the current balance of your account. It’s not just balances—pretty much any information that changes will take time to settle into the right places.

Part of this is run-of-the-mill bureaucracy, but these are also large scale organizations and with distributed systems. (If you think about it, even moving papers around a building or two is a network which comes with network faults). Without eventual consistency, they would be unable to serve as many users and handle the complexity in which they serve them.