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"Hello? HELLO? Dammit..."
"May I help you, sir?"
"There you are. Finally! I want to complain about your roof!"
"My roof, sir?"
"Yes, dammit! Don't play dumb! I want to complain about the roof on your building here!"
"Ah. You want to speak to the Building Manager, then. I inspect factories, you see. I don't have much to do with this office building. I'll see if he's..."
"Typical bureaucrat. Shuffling me off because 'it ain't my job.'"
"Well, you can talk to the person who can do something about the problem or you can talk to me, if you prefer. What's the problem?"
"You've got packages of shingles all over your roof!"
"Indeed, Sir. Most buildings do have shingles on their roofs. What's wrong with them?"
"They're still in the packages!"
"Ah, yes, I had noticed that."
"That's ridiculous! That's bad!"
"I entirely agree with you, sir."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Why should I do anything about it at all?"
"Because it's bad for the shingles to sit up there on the roof inside the packages! It damages them! They won't last long because they'll be all damaged when you put them on the roof! Any layman knows that!"
"I hadn't heard that, but I'll take your word for it, sir."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Nothing. I inspect factories. I was just wandering by the front desk when I heard you shouting, so I came up to see if I could help you."
"Then get me the damned building manager, since you're worthless. HE will do something about those shingles, for damned sure!"
"I will call him here for you, sir, certainly. But he won't do anything about the shingles either."
"Dammit, this is outrageous! It's a waste of the taxpayer's money letting those shingles rot in the packages like that!"
"Acutally, sir, it isn't. We don't own the building, you see. There's no taxpayer money involved. Well, not directly anyway!"
"Bullpuckey! The state's name is on the building!"
"Indeed it is, sir, because we have offices here and we have had them for ten years. But the State doesn't own the building. It's owned by a private landlord. All we do is pay him rent. He contracts to have the maintenance done, however he wants to."
"You're lying."
"If you say so, Sir. Check with the County Clerk if you don't believe me. She has records of who owns what property."
"Maybe I WILL go talk to the County boys. The ones at Zoning and Building Codes. They gotta have a rule against leaving the shingles on the roof like that. I'll put in a word with them."
"I wish you would, sir, since they're the reason the shingles are still in the packages in the first place."
"Well, as I said, this is a private building and the landlord can have the maintenance done however he wants. Presumably he went with the cheapest bid. Now, I could guess why the company he chose wanted to put the shingles on the roof on Friday afternoon late and put them all on over the weekend- when those County Boys you were talking about aren't on the job- but if I did say why I thought it was, that might be slander.
"In any case the Building Inspector saw what they were doing, and he was steamed. They hadn't pulled a permit or paid the fees or anything. He shut them down. That's why the shingles are still up there in their packages; waiting for the paperwork to be sorted out and the fines to be paid and all of that. But by all means, go talk to the Building Inspector. Maybe it will help."
"You have a lousy attitude."
"I entirely agree, sir."
"Well, I.. I.. WHY am I wasting my time talking to you?"
"I don't know, sir. I came up here because I heard you shouting and thought I might be able to direct you to whomever you needed to see, that's all."
"And another thing! There should be someone at the reception desk to help me when I come in!"
"I entirely agree, sir. Unfortunately the current administration won't pay for anyone to fill in while our regular receptionist is sick."
"Then you should have some way for visitors to call someone to the front desk!"
"Ah. Like this telephone by your right elbow, with the sign that says 'Visitors please dial 3400?'"
"Dammit! You should put that somewhere somebody might actually see it!"
"Ah, that I can help you with. Let me slide it two feet to the right... right in front of you now. There. Is that better?"
"Dammit, I.. oh.. ACKgrkkhhh....."
"Oh dear." Click beep beep beep beep "General call, first aid responders to the front desk with the AED. There.
"How unfortunate. Heh. Score one for The Bureaucrat."


Jun. 7th, 2012 06:06 pm
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Any day out of the office is a good one. I went out to do a couple inspections today.

I found and rescued a trapped bird at one of the sites. I felt moved to tweet about it, using the fancy-Dan new thingie I found called Twitter. Maybe you've heard of it.

(Tweet:) I rescued a fledgling who got his foot caught in a slot in a steel beam at a natural gas production facility. They never thank you.

Ran around and did the rest of my stuff. On my way back to the office I stopped to carry a tortoise off the highway. I have to do at least one turtle rescue each spring, so now my spring is complete I guess.

(Tweet:) Rescued turtle from the highway. They never thank you either.

Sometime after I got an email that some natural gas production management company in Austin, Texas, was following my tweets. Haiku ensued:

Some gas company
Follows my tweets, who knows why?
Hope they like haiku

Of course when I investigated this Leading Upstanding Natural Gas Management Company I found they were NOT following me. They had something like 100 followers but were only following one person, and it wasn't me.

The answer is obvious. I had mentioned natural gas production in one of my tweets. They must have some sort of twitterbot, a critter I didn't know existed, that searched tweets for those words, followed anyone who mentioned them, and then unfollowed them again. It was all just an elaborate way of spamming, in other words.

I'm annoyed at that of course. Spammers Must Die. Still, you have to admire all the hard work and dedication needed to pull off this particular bit of annoyance. And they didn't steal anything but my time and Twitter's bandwidth, didn't steal anyone's pension, didn't kill anyone, didn't overthrow any small oil-rich countries, so by the standards of Good Honest Businessmen they're not all that slimy at all. Probably.
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I'm a government employee-- yeah, one of THEM-- and I'm a little frustrated that the old "Government should be like business" mantra is still getting so much play. Government isn't business and can't be. I'm sure there are hundreds of reasons why, but here are five:

1. We Hate Experience

If you were hiring for a business, you'd want the most experienced, qualified employees you could get. In my state our highest management, the elected officials, are actually prohibited by law from being experienced; they call this "Term Limits." Of course now they're trying to force the most experienced line employees to retire as well.

Not everybody has those exact problems. But it seems to me that everywhere there's a strong inclination to "throw the bums out," with even experienced insiders trying to pretend to be Outsider Outcast Rebels. The theory appears to be that it's better to be run by people who don't know what they're doing-- and then voters wonder why their leaders act like they don't know what they're doing.

2. We're Not For Profit

Businesses exist to make money. Among other things, that makes it easy for them to know if they're successful. Government exists to do the necessary things that don't make money. That means we are inefficiency incarnate, by the ECONOMIC definition at least.

Our "profit and loss" is in the well-being of the citizens as a whole, and that's a darn sight harder to measure than the bottom line of a profit statement. With no easy way to know whether we're winning, it's hard to be efficient, or even know what efficiency is. It's even harder when about half the voters don't want us to be doing what we're doing anyway.

3. We Serve Everybody...

If a customer costs too much or is just too unpleasant, a business can always tell them to take a hike. We can't. No matter how much it costs to provide service in your neighborhood, no matter how much you ask, no matter whether you're pleasant, rude, crazy, or holed up with Your Finger On the Button threatening to blow up the entire neighborhood, we must still work with you.

4 ...Whether They Want It or Not

Which brings up another problem. People like having choices. They hate feeling they don't have a choice. Even when they want our services, people will be angry about paying for them because they have no choice in the matter. What about when they don't want our services? When we're writing traffic tickets, or telling some honest businessman he can't dump paint in the river any more, or escorting some interesting character to his new life behind bars, customer satisfaction tends to be very, very low. I'm not sure there's any way to change that. I'm not sure that we should try.

5. We've Got A Few Hundred Million Bosses

If you work for a corporation, you may work for a million stockholders, but at least you can assume that they all want you to make money. My boss is Everybody, and my millions of bosses can't agree on what they want us to do.

One of the consequences is we are locked into narrow programs. People say we should change with changing times. We should be flexible and take a more holistic approach to things. I don't know anybody out here on the front lines who wouldn't agree. But in order to do it, we'd have to take people and funds appropriated for one purpose and apply them to something else, in ways the Legislature and the voters didn't authorize. And since they set things up so narrowly because they didn't trust us, and didn't want us to decide these things on our own, somehow I think they'd object.

If you want flexibility, you're going to trust the elected officials and even the line employees some latitude to decide what's important and to blow off the rest. That is much of what the various management theories say you should do. And hey, I suppose it could happen. But this is government, not business, and nobody's ever been willing to trust us with that much freedom. Perhaps they shouldn't; I'm not impartial enough to judge that.

I'd love to have the freedom to stop wasting time on the stuff that doesn't matter-- like keeping score to satisfy the critics, the voters, the auditors-- and spend more time actually accomplishing things. But based on past experience, I'm not holding my breath.


Sep. 20th, 2008 04:42 pm
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Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is not the organic-based disease that (I think) is better known. Rather, OCPD is just another wrong way to look at the world. You could summarize it as faith in The Rules, combined with bafflement and suppressed rage when The Rules don't work, when following The Rules doesn't lead to success, when other people flout The Rules and are not immediately struck down by Lightning from On High.

People who work for the government are often subject to OCPD. Whether that's because they've worked with the system for too long, because they had this blind faith in The Rules all along, or because of some combination of the two, I do not know.

I would say that if you're entrusted with enforcing the regulations, it is not a bad thing to think that The Rules should be followed and that they are important. I will also admit that I have bouts of OCPD myself. Fortunately, I deal with people outside the system. I deal with the real world. And, dare I say it, I am not entirely stupid. So there are limits to how blindly I will follow The Rules. And a lot of my particular OPCD anger is against the rules themselves, for having been written (as they sometimes are) in ways that can't be enforced or understood, and in ways that move us away from the very goals for which The Rules were written in the first place. Nevertheless, I can be unreasonable about The Rules. I know it. I really shouldn't get down on other sufferers the way I do.

The problem is that as with everything else, in bureaucracy and in faith in The Rules there are degrees, there are levels. Generally you have more rigid, less intelligent faith in The Rules as you move up from us front-line cannon-fodder to the middle management levels; then less and less, until you get to the top layer of the bureaucracy, the legislature, who have no respect for the laws at all. And as you move right-to-left across the organization, from those of us who deal with the public to those who deal with front-line workers, but not the public, to those who are so far back into the organization that they don't even know the public exists, you get a greater and greater level of the disorder.

In short, you, Joe Citizen, might deal with me and think that I am an unreasonable, inflexible bureaucrat. But you have no idea. No frickin' idea at ALL. We front-liners have to deal with deeper and deeper levels of bureaucracy, the support staff and the people who support the support staff and the people who support them, and each succeeding remove from reality means that their heads are jammed in that much higher and tighter, until no light can reach them at ALL and their brains turn to mush from lack of air.

Which brings me to our Department of Information Technology.

There was a time when each of our divisions had their own IT staff, who would take care of our problems and fix whatever needed fixing. Now, one thing the higher-ups always say is that they want to do what's right to help us, that they value our contributions, that customer service and keeping us informed, that consulting with us about what we need, are all vital, and that they will spare no effort to take care of us. But they took everyone's individual IT staff and ripped them away from us, of course without consulting us at all-- they just did it. And the new DIT acts in the same way. They won't fix anything we need fixed, but they will reach down and change things at random in our computers and software. Change things so that our old programs, that we still need to do our work, won't work any more. Change things so we can't fix their screw-ups. Change things so we all have the DIT screensaver with quotes from the DIT mission statement, and it comes on after 10 minutes, and you can't even change THAT, for heavens's sakes.

They say this is important for purposes of computer security. Computer security is important; they read that in a column in BYTE somewhere, I think. So we're going to have it, whether we need it or not.

Which we don't, because all our computers are in a locked, secure building, and don't have anything but public information on them anyway. Of course my messages asking that my computer be allowed to go more than 10 minutes idle before everything locks up and I have to log in again have gone unanswered-- one of the secrets of the DITiots is that, like most service providers who claim that Your Call is Important to Us, they make it impossible to actually reach anybody or talk to anybody. (At that, the inability to contact anyone at all with my problems is a step up from what my cell phone company, Alltel, does; or what Charter, my cable and internet provider, does. They ship my calls off to the same guy in the Philippines, who has a third-grade education and command of no more than six words of heavily-accented English. It's amazing how quickly and cheaply this guy who doesn't speak English can dispose of those annoying customer service calls.)

Of course if I ever DID get through to someone DITiot in power and told him my concerns, I'd just get the Stupid Stubborn Cow Look and "Are you seriously saying that you're against computer security?" Inner-zone bureaucrats always have that brainless look and a no-win question ready for you, should you dare to attempt to illuminate the lightless abyss in which they dwell.

And then I'd probably get a reprimand for having a bad attitude. That's happened too.

However, I have discovered a way to solve the ten minute computer lock problem. If the computer never goes idle, it won't be idle for ten minutes; if it isn't idle for ten minutes, it won't lock. And there's a hardware device that can prevent the computer from going idle for as long as you wish. A device literally millions of years in development.

It's called a rock. If you balance a rock on the mouse button so it sends a constant stream of mouseclicks into the comptuer.. problem solved.

Or so I've heard. I wouldn't have a bad enough attitude to actually try something like that MYSELF, you understand.
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If you don't commute to work as many days per week, you cut fuel costs. So to help employees with fuel costs the Governor mandated that our organizations should look favorably on alternative work schedules.

The Director of my department decided to comply with this directive by redefining what had been our usual work schedule as "alternative" and requiring all of us to submit requests, in writing, to change our schedule to what it already is.

I have seen more than my share of bureaucracy, but the brilliance and audacity of this move has me shaking my head in stunned disbelief.
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Essex Paving

Somewhere near “the middle of the mitten” you'll find the twin towns of Alma and St. Louis, Michigan. When I was a kid we called Alma “Smellma” because of the odors from its refinery. St. Louis has its industrial history too.

The Pine River flows through here, and as it passes St. Louis it goes by a large earthwork structure that looks remarkably like the base of a huge pyramid. The resemblance is apt, because this is indeed a tomb.

Read more... )
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Ever since we got our first compliance database, about 15 years ago now, I've been arguing that the Division needs to consolidate everything into one Grand Soviet Database. "The man with one watch knows what time it is. The man with two watches is never sure," I say, nodding my head wisely.

I don't think anybody else knows what I mean by that. But it has dawned on them that when you have half a dozen databases with the "same" data in each, and some of the updates get done HERE and some get done THERE, it's impossible to tell which version of the data is correct. So, yes, we are finally getting one central database, with each group of users having their own front end to connect to that part of the data they need.

I'm usually all against centralization of power in the Ivory Tower down there near the Capitol Building, but in this case I'll make an exception.

I'm not going to complain about the new database system too much. After all, it's what I've been agitating for. I even stopped myself from mentioning that, as usual, the only things that work so far are the bean counting functions. Most of the things that would help us get some actual WORK done around here are upgrades to be added later as time and money allow-- which means never. We're still waiting for those upgrades on the original DOS database, the fifteen year old one that we're finally phasing out. So I'm not holding my breath for upgrades on the new system, y'unnerstand.

The new system does have a few bugs. One that I noticed is that due to a bug in the part that reads some Federal database or other, one of the pollution control devices listed is "Military Aircraft."

I thought about that for a while. At first it seemed like an error for sure, but on second thought, why not? It would work-- but only for those Honest Businessmen who are REALLY recalcitrant about ending their pollution any other way.
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Mr. Chris Andrews
Lansing State Journal
120 E. Lenawee St.
Lansing, MI 48919

Dear Mr. Andrews:

As a state employee, I have to put up with a number of risks. For one thing, there are a large number of ignorant rednecks who want me dead for no reason whatsoever, and not all of them are in the Michigan State Senate.

Of those who aren't, a fair number are Militia types who live in the back woods around here, claiming they're not part of the State of Michigan or subject to its laws; cleaning their guns; and thinking that their buddies McVeigh and Nichols done real good when they blowed up that there government office building in Oklahoma City.

I suppose you're going to cry Freedom of the Press and congratulate yourself on serving the public by publishing a searchable database of every state employee, complete with names, salaries, job titles, and addresses. But what you have done, accidentally or not (and I have a hard time believing you didn't realize this in advance) is to paint a big red target on the back of each and every employee of the state. If any of us get killed because of this, our blood is on your hands.

Didn't it occur to you that perhaps cops, prison guards, environmental enforcers, the people who step in between abusive parents and their children or who get between battered and battering spouses, might have enemies? And we don't really need enemies. Nobody in that Federal Building in Oklahoma City had ever done anything to harm McVeigh or Nichols. None of them knew their killers, and the killers knew none of them. It was simply enough that they worked for the government.

I think that in fairness to the rest of us, you should post your own address, phone number, personal e-mail, and salary. And while you are at it, I suggest you provide those of all your friends and loved ones, the name of the school your kids go to, and what time classes get out, for the convenience of any child molesters who might be watching.

Your friend,
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Had smoke school today. This is the twice-yearly trip downstate to "recalibrate the eyeballs" for estimating the thickness of smoke-- its opacity, to use the proper term-- exiting from a smokestack.

We left the office 5:30 AM and got back 6:30 PM, which wouldn't have been so horrible except that whenever I have to get up early to go somewhere, I can't sleep the night before at all. I got two hours sleep last night before I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep again, so I'm not at my best. To bed with me as soon as I finish this.

It's good to go down to the Detritus metropolitan area to remind myself why I don't live in big cities. A more miserable and misbegotten example of urban non-planning than SE Michigan you would have to travel far to see. It's good to remind myself that for all the annoyances of living here in The Pickers, things could be much worse.

In other air program news, you might have heard that several states sued the US EPA over CO2 emissions. This went all the way to the Supreme Court, where by a less than comforting 5-4 decision the Court held that the pollutant, carbon dioxide, when released to the air was in fact an air pollutant. And that global warming, warming up the weather, was in fact an effect on the weather. Therefore the US EPA has no grounds to refuse to regulate the stuff. More to the point, the EPA has no grounds to forbid the individual states from regulating the stuff should the EPA continue to refuse to do so-- as I rather expect.

You probably heard this. What you probably DIDN'T hear was that the day after W lost in the supreme court, the White House, strictly by the WILDEST of COINCIDENCES, ordered the EPA to cut all its air pollution control grants to state air pollution control agencies. Including the one I work for. We're looking at 17 layoffs from that alone, if the mutterings I've heard down the chain of command are correct.

The timing of this action is, I'm sure, merest coincidence. It couldn't possibly be interpreted as spitefulness on a level usually reserved for coke-addled, spoiled, rich frat kids.
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Do you know what the penalty for nagelwresting is?

There isn't any penalty for it. Whatever it is, it isn't illegal, chiefly because nobody's ever done it.

It's good to remember that pretty much all our laws and regulations prohibit something that some lowlife scum somewhere actually did once. I can assure you, there is no Washington office devoted to dreaming up ways to prohibit things that nobody has ever done, or wanted to, or suggested.

We have burdensome child labor laws because Honest Businessmen saw nothing wrong with hiring children to work twelve-hour shifts in textile mills. And they no doubt praised themselves for doing so on the grounds of the economic opportunities they were providing. JobsJobsJobs!

We have burdonsome pollution laws because Honest Businessmen saw nothing wrong with pouring smoke into Pennsylvania skies until people were dropping dead all over town, or pouring solvents into Ohio rivers until they caught fire and nearly burned the city down.

We have fair labor laws because Henry Ford, among others, saw nothing wrong with hiring bands of armed thugs to beat or kill any "troublemakers" in his plant who thought the workers should have some say in what was in their contract-- and after all, it was Ford's property, wasn't it? Didn't he have an absolute right to control who was there and what they did there?

We have worker safety laws in honor of the thousands mangled in machinery or dead of black lung, brown lung, asbestosis, silicosis... and if the danger bothered them, they should go get a job somewhere else. Except there wasn't anywhere else.

Every single burdensome regulation the Honest Businessmen squeal about is damning evidence that the "enlightened self-interest" that is supposed to make Honest Businessmen behave in a responsible manner, didn't.

Perhaps we are smarter now. Perhaps we are more moral than we once were. Perhaps if we took all those regulations away, the Honest Businessmen wouldn't return to those old abuses.

Or not right away, anyhow.

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Great day today, just great. Among other events, I agreed to go out and inspect That Same Damned Facility with the Odors again, because this time the... concerned citizen... called the US Senator, so the USEPA is sending two people driving 300 miles up here from Chicago to investigate, and they want me to show them how to get there. This will be about the 20th time I've inspected the place in the last three years.

Every so often something horrible happens in the environmental field. Some chemical plant explodes or something. And the cry goes out, where were the government regulators? Why didn't they catch this before it blew up? I'll tell you why. Somebody had an industrial facility in their back yard and didn't want it there, so they started a letter writing campaign and also a program of harassing phone calls to every agency and politician they could find, over and over again. And while they should have been checking the chemical plant, the EPA was three hundred miles away investigating a whiff of paint fumes over a back fence, because some senator (an anti-environmentalist Republican, more likely than not) ordered them to.

Not too happy about that, or the chest cold I may be developing. Then this afternoon came the real prize.

Some Honest Businessman came to the realization that a gallon of gasoline and a match was cheaper and faster than having this old house on his property demolished in a safe and legal manner. He called to ask me if that was allowed under the air pollution regulations. It isn't, of course.

He then explained, very carefully, that arson would SAVE HIM MONEY. I then explained, very carefully, that even if it was cheap it was still ILLEGAL.

So I got the twenty-minute rant about how some day they'll force government to let Honest Businessmen do anything they want to on the property for which they pay taxes. I remained calm. Outwardly.

How was your day?

January 2015

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