Magazine article Insight on the News

A Case Study in Ineptitude

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Case Study in Ineptitude

Article excerpt

The Clinton administration has issued a report commemorating the first anniversary of the plan to reinvent government, which was launched by Vice President Al Gore with much fanfare. The report is a hallelujah chorus of achievements by government agencies: much paperwork eliminated, time frames reduced for responding to citizens, the bureaucracy slimmed down and, of course, enough money saved to make Silas Marner blush with pride.

Don't, however, believe that a new federal government is in the offing. The Interstate Commerce Commission survives and thrives -- no matter that its regulatory days are long over. The anachronistic Rural Electrification Administration has little to do but still will run up a power bill for taxpayers. The Postal Service's ineptitude will continue to be tolerated despite its report card for speedy mail delivery. And, if my recent experience with a government agency is typical, pessimism should be the hallmark of this anniversary day.

Although I've lived in Washington for 35 years and have avoided government contracting like the plague, I thought that maybe -- just maybe -- Gore's enthusiasm and competence could cut government red tape. So when a federal agency contacted me last winter to consider chronicling its history, I gave the matter serious consideration.

The chronicle was to be brief (about 20,000 words) and completed by April 1, 1995. Of course, I would have to bid on the project, but I believed the news reports that the process had been made more user-friendly. Besides, if successful with my bid, I would have a full year to research and write.

But the bidding process didn't begin in April 1994, as I had believed it would. Nor in May, June or July. In late August, I received the bid form, a multipage, fine-print document that almost rivaled in length the manuscript I was to prepare.

I had to answer detailed questions about whether my workplace (me, myself and I) adhered to federal civil-rights requirements, whether any goods for the project would be shipped by sea and whether I was a minority business or a woman-owned business. There was a section on whether I had, in fact, been designated a small business by the Small Business Administration. …

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