Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Rules of Bureaucracy

Over the last few months, my long-lost friend Debbie has been feeding me odds and ends she thinks would be useful for my blog. Some are things I've already seen, some are new, and some are - frankly - a bit in excess of the PG rating I try to maintain here (since my children, nieces, and nephews read this blog, too).

This morning, since I need to get my wide, pasty-white backside in gear and get checked out of the hotel so I can spend a few more hours with Dad before heading home, I thought I'd dip into The Debbie File and share one of her offerings with you.

If you've never had to deal with a massive and opaque government bureaucracy before, you're very fortunate. But if you do have to do it, remember these ten rules that drive bureaucracies:

1. Preserve thyself.

2. It is easier to fix the blame than to fix the problem (see Congress for a prime example).

3. A penny saved is an oversight.

4. Information deteriorates upward.

5. The first 90% of the task takes 10% of the time; the last 10% takes the other 90%.

6. Experience is what you get just after you need it.

7. For any given large, complex, hard-to-understand, expensive problem, there exists at least one short, simple, easy, cheap wrong answer (government bailouts?).

8. Anything that can be changed will be, until time runs out.

9. To err is human; to shrug is civil service.

10. There's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it over.

For really good parodies of mindless bureaucracy, I can recommend two classics: the administrative offices of Hell as depicted in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's recently-reprinted update of Dante's Inferno; and the marvelous and hysterically funny song Antrag auf Erteilung eines Antragsformulars by German folk singer Reinhard Mey. Mey's song is the story of a fellow who spends days being shunted from office to office in search of a special form he's been told he needs to submit to his local government office...only to find out in the end that all the stocks of the forms are being destroyed because they're superfluous and no one ever needs them for anything. Someday when I have time, I'll post a translation of the lyrics to go with the YouTube video I linked to above so you can enjoy it if you don't speak any German.

And now it's time for me to deal with the Best Western bureaucracy, pay my bill, and hit the road. See you in the morning.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

8 comments:

KKTSews said...

I know you were rushing, but #5 should be that the fist 90% of the job takes 10% of the effort and the last 10% takes 90% of the effort. At least, that's the way with all my home improvement projects!

Hope you are enjoying the beautiful weather during your visit and your Dad is recovering as well as can be resonably expected.

John said...

How true, how true. I live with that mentality every day.

Amanda said...

Ha! Ha! Ha! at #9 !!

Hope your father is doing better. Have a good time!

Melissa B. said...

Information deteriorates upward. That Debbie is a sharp cookie! Here's Your Humble Civil Servant, "shrugging" off...PS: Don't forget today's Silly Sunday Sweepstakes!

fiona said...

No6 is SO true! Our Green Card application ...grrrrrrrrr
Hugs for your Dad and safe trip home darlin xxx

Mike said...

As my favorite, I pick 1 through 10.

Bilbo said...

Katherine - oops! That's what I get for doing this so early in the morning. Thanks...I fixed it.

John - spoken like a true government electron-pusher!

Amanda - I like #9, too...but #2 is more accurate nowadays.

Melissa - I'll pass on the comment to Debbie. And check out Silly Sunday.

Fiona - when I decided to marry Agnes and bring her back to the States, I didn't know I needed to generate her own weight in paperwork. Good thing she's so small!

Mike - have experience with bureaucracies, do you...?

SusieQ said...

There was an episode on Frazier in which Frazier's father had to deal with the bank's bureaucracy when he tried to return the $40 excess that the bank's ATM accidently spit out to him when he was using it to get some cash. The trouble he went to in an attempt to do the right thing and return something that did not belong to him. Sometimes doing the right thing becomes a headache.