A microcosm of big government

My child participates in a youth swim league.  In a couple of weeks, all the regional swim teams are gathering together for the big meet of the season.  Each swim team has to pay a fee to participate.  Because I’m on the planning committee this year, I learned something interesting:  the private swim clubs pay their fees the moment they’re billed; the swim clubs that are run through the cities can take months to pay their bills.  Every bill has to wend its way through the city’s bureaucracy until it finally gets to the right desk and gets the right signature.  Meanwhile, the team that hosts the event is left out-of-pocket while awaiting payment.

Government is useful and important in the right places, but it is inefficient.  Very, very inefficient.

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    Prompt Payment Act, I guess is not applicable to local municipalities. Not that it would matter much.
    Ca. paid $2.2 million in late payment penalties in 2006. Agencies paid $3.7 million the following year. In 2008, the state paid $6.3 million in late fees. Data for 2009-2010 is not yet available.

    Read more: http://www.kcra.com/news/26779210/detail.html#ixzz1QF1L5mJe

  • 11B40


    I spent some time in the Federal bureaucracy back in the ’80s when the aforementioned Prompt Payment Act came down from our beloved Congress. My organization dealt with a number of small printers for most of our odds and ends jobs, and I used to feel sorry for them. Part of the difficulty was the way the bills were paid; we would authorize payment, someone else would approve, and then a third party, if everything was correct, would cut a check. It took me over a year to finagle a sub-routine, through my then sweetheart’s boss, where I could hand carry the invoices over to the Finance types and walk them through and get the check. It’s amazing what some free business cards and memo pads can cause to happen. 

    When I started working in commercial printing on the Peninsula, the shoe was on the other foot. All those brillento MBAs thought they were just so financial exceptional that a 30-day invoice actually meant 60 to 90 days. Bronx boy that I am, I kind of enjoyed showing up in their offices with my unpaid invoices. Them not so much.

    I was raised to believe that dealing with credit is a test of your personal honor. You don’t see that word, honor, much anymore in discussions or article about creit.

  • Zhombre

    The Zoning Board writ large, according to David Mamet.

  • Charles Martel

    “. . .we would authorize payment, someone else would approve, and then a third party, if everything was correct, would cut a check.”

    In the old Soviet Union shoppers would stand in one line to get a chit entitling them to buy the item they wanted to purchase. Then they’d stand in a second line where they’d ascertain that the item was in stock. If so, the shoppers would pay for it and receive a receipt. They’d then stand in a third line to hand over the receipt and take delivery.

    It’s interesting how government sucks all the world’s geniuses into its service, leaving lesser intellects like us to marvel at the brilliance of the people who run the world for our benefit.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Illinois is something like 6-months or more behind in paying their contractors. Just one of several reasons that I do not accept government contracts.

  • Gringo

    Danny Lemieux
    Illinois is something like 6-months or more behind in paying their contractors. Just one of several reasons that I do not accept government contracts.

    But Danny, you could do your bit to reduce Illinois’s massive budget deficit! Get a contract with the State of Illinois, perform the work, and not get paid for it! Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country:  you do unpaid work for your country, and your country screws you out payment.
    Fair deal. :)

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Death panels are going to be the least of your concerns.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I just got a brilliant idea. We should be taking advantage of government inefficients. Take malepractice and lawsuits. If we make it illegal to transfer money directly from one private party to another in a lawsuit, we can basically redistribute it to the government’s coffers and then pay it out to the winners of a lawsuit. This way those millions of dollars of damages evaporates and we get two benefits.

    1. The cost is still there to losing a lawsuit.

    2. But there’s no benefit to winning frivolous lawsuits so less frivolous lawsuits will be filed based upon human greed. It’s not human greed, but pursuit of justice, because the people sueing company X won’t get more than 1 penny per 10 dollars they get out of damages. A damage of 500,000 will be rendered into 500 dollars, and the lawyer gets 70% of that.

    Let’s see how long the trial lawsuit lawyers can take that kind of drop in their income before cashing out of the biz.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    A tax on lawsuits. Can you imagine it. The Libs love new taxes, right. They love new taxes on lawyers right.

  • kali

    Danny: Illinois is something like 6-months or more behind in paying their contractors. Just one of several reasons that I do not accept government contracts.

    Augghhhh! Danny, that’s*my* salary you’re not contributing to. Well, partially. The rest is contributed by tuition from foreign students.
    But you’ll be pleased to know that the University of Illinois system is becoming much more efficient. University Administration is growing at the expense of individual campuses, which means we’ll get incredible economies of scale, which means in turn we won’t be such a drag on the state’s budget.

  • 11B40

    Greetings:  especially M. Martel (#4)

    Once again, my brevity has proved to be the soul of my half wit.

    Implicitly, very implicitly apparently, I was trying to demonstrate an equivalence between large organizations, both governmental and commercial and smaller, less bureaucratically organized ones. Although, the actual motives may vary, accepted levels of inefficiency versus some low level financial gain, the impact on the less powerful of those involved in the transactions is both real and deleterious.

    As to your anecdotal contribution about the Ghost of Mother Russia Past, I would offer this. My local “Safeway” grocery store now issues what I call a “pre-coupon” which is a “coupon” that is used to get a real (old-style?) coupon that will actually result in some amount of price discount. Admittedly, in my years in the printing industry’s various facets, i was almost always on the side of the operations guys as opposed to the marketeers. The glow of the new often resulted in a kind of “know-blindness” in the latter that I interpreted as customer abuse however minimal it actually was. If you want to give me a coupon, give me a coupon. If you don’t want to give me a coupon, don’t give me a coupon. If you’re giving me a “pre-coupon”, you’re abusing me.

    I think that there is something inherent in large organizations that allows them to impose their will on their customers without adequate multi-perspective thought. Perhaps, it’s just that they have so many customers that there is no way to maintain a concerted interpersonal contact. Sad.

  • nathan

    I have a single example of government performing well: on a recent trip to Israel, I lost my passport. At 9:30 am on the following morning, I called the American consulate in Jerusalem.  The guy on the other end of the phone, an Arab Israeli it turned out, seemed to drop everything to help me.  He told me to immediately get new passport photos, come to the consulate before noon, and bring another American to sign an affidavit because I had no other photo ID.  He arranged for my name to be on file with the security police at the gate.  The two of us arrived at the consulate, went through security and spent 45 minutes filling out the paperwork.  I was told to return between 1:30 and 2:00 pm that same day to pick up my new temporary passport for my flight home.  My new passport was waiting for me when I returned.
    If only the rest of government worked that well.  Of course, what really happened is that I was served by Israeli personnel supervised by an American consular officer who signed off on the paperwork.

  • Gringo

    Nathan, your story  about  a US embassy reminds me of  my experience in Argentina, one which “seared in my memory” that for all the inefficiencies of government in  the US, we who complain about “bureaucracy” don’t know the half of it compared to what it is like in other countries. I made a trip to Buenos Aires to renew an expired passport. Within fifteen minutes, I had a new passport . This was NOT emergency treatment, but apparently standard operating procedure at the time. [Currently, it takes longer.]
    A year before, I had dropped off all appropriate documentation and photos to a local government office to get my Argentine Documento Nacional de Identificación– all cognates, so translation is not necessary. Included was a photocopy of the work visa in my passport.  The local government  office informed me that it would send my material to Buenos Aires, and I should have my DNI within a month. A year later, I had not gotten my DNI.
    Since I was in Buenos Aires, I decided to stop in at the appropriate national office to see if I could get my DNI. After  filling in an Information Request, et al, four days later I still didn’t have my DNI. Or should say, a year and four days later, I still didn’t have my DNI. I informed the clerk at the national office in BA that as I had to leave Buenos Aires to get back to where I was living in Salta, they could mail the DNI to me. “But it will get lost,” the clerk responded.[“Pero se va a perder.”] Within fifteen minutes, I had my DNI.
    I wonder if a supervisor gave that clerk a hard time for being so candid.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    People are obviously going through the mail and skimming off the top. They probably thought they could get some bank account info from the official government seal or something. Obviously once they tear it open, they’re not going to seal it back up and send it on its way when it turns out to be lacking in value.