Friday, April 20, 2012

Mike Opelka's Week in Government Waste

Here's Mike Opelka's roundup of hilarious government waste stories:

I was thinking about this topic yesterday, when I sat down to my cozy frugal meal (beans) with my usual dining companions (the modem-free home computer and a stack of documents). On the stack of documents a year-old op-ed page was on top. The writer who provoked me was comparing those who want to downsize our government with patients who suffer from a rare neurological disorder in which the patient doesn't believe that a numbed-out, paralyzed limb is still part of his or her body.

Well, if the "numbed-out, paralyzed" label fits...he said it; I didn't. I think our federal, state, and local governments still have numerous areas of functionality.

Our government is part of us...and we can depend on the wastrels in our government to use the Washington Monument ploy, discussed here last summer, to remind us of that fact as our economy declines and cuts have to be made.

Like most people who've actually lived in Washington or its suburbs, I'm irked by articles like this one...

To be fair, if you read the article below the headline, Eddie Scarry was claiming that only some D.C. public school students are "dumb." But then he ends up with another unprovoked verbal attack:

"...students, many of whom will have no intentions of pursuing higher education, will still have to pay to take the standardized tests for it.
Councilman Kwame Brown called the proposal “historic.” Then again, he’s a product of D.C.’s public school system."

Let me guess: Eddie Scarry is young, he's Caucasian, he's never lived or worked in Washington, he's never been a teacher, and he wouldn't last one day if he tried to work in the system of which he writes. I agree with him about the need to stop trying to inflict increasingly inflated amounts of education on people who aren't interested in learning, actually. I'm still miffed by his grandiose generalizations. When the sermon is really bad, the choir get up and walk out.

Yes, many people who work for our various forms of government are good, hardworking, even effective in their jobs. Yes, there are public school teachers who enforce discipline, push students to think, and are remembered fondly at the end of the year. Yes, there are street cops who don't have a need to hassle law-abiding people to know that, if they had to, they could shoot a gun out of a bank robber's hand. Yes, there are mail carriers, road resurfacers, garbage collectors, municipal water treatment workers, and all sorts of other honest and dutiful people you seldom actually see, doing their government-salaried jobs, but you'd miss if they ever stopped doing those jobs.

There are also goldbricks who use the security of a government job as an excuse to "look busy" while wasting time and money, even persecute anyone who innocently takes a government job with any expectation of working in the way s/he normally works in the private sector.

While supporting my personal growth as a writer by doing odd jobs, I've worked with different levels of government in different capacities--as a foster parent, as a massage therapist, more--but most of my interaction with our government took place in Washington when I was still earning most of my income as a typist. I am a competent typist, and I can tell you that your tax dollars are keeping people at work in offices where, if a competent typist is inadvertently given a contract, the goldbricks will make it their main project to cause the abortion of that contract. Because the goldbricks are building their career on an expectation that they can continue to get paid for theoretically working for four days on a typing job I could do in four hours.

That Times-News columnist mentions that goldbricks can take over corporate offices, too, and he's absolutely right about that. Being paid with tax dollars does not cause individuals to become goldbricks, nor does it cause clusters of goldbricks to enforce actual office policies of goldbricking or even sabotage of the office's stated goals. Being part of a large group, where an individual's continued employment from week to week does not depend directly on productivity and customer relations, causes these phenomena. Any big corporation, or any large and vocal labor union, is just as liable to infestation with goldbricks as the government is.

If chunks of our government payroll the size of the Postal Service were privatized, sheer size would probably allow waste to continue unchecked.

What could curb government waste? For office workers, the group I know best, a solution that's always appealed to me might be called the "Get to Work and Get It Done" Policy.

Under this policy, government offices (and large corporate offices) would announce that employees do not have to try to look busy, or pace their work to avoid being given more work. Instead, they're now encouraged to finish all the work in their in-boxes as fast as possible. Once their in-boxes are empty, they're free to bring in work for their own profit, or do their own errands, or even go home and spend time with their children. Not only will there be no penalty for an office worker's admitting that s/he is doing this; after a one-year trial, the office workers who've done it most will be the ones still employed at the same office.

Of course, they will now be taking over the responsibilities of the people who really did need four days to type a fifteen-page report. Those people will be recommended to jobs for which they may have some talent--as waiters, security guards, possibly even on-call technical experts--but they will never be recommended, or rehired, for a full-time office job.

It's worth a try. Meanwhile, I'd like to invite Mike Opelka, Steve Milloy, or any reader out there who knows scientists as well as I know office workers, to generate a comparable solution to the problem of waste by scientists who work on useless trendy projects instead of useful but non-trendy projects.