Thursday, August 9, 2012

Government Efficiency: A Fable for Our Time

About five years ago, my wife and I moved into an apartment house close upon a beautiful New England river. Across the road from our building was an unimproved two acre lot right  on the bank of said river. Some parts of this lot were overgrown with bushes, small trees' and weeds. But there was a bumpy gravel road, a gravel parking area, a ramp to launch canoes and kayaks, and a small clear area along the river where those that wished could sit and fish and otherwise enjoy being out of doors. The people in our building enjoyed it immensely.

The company that owned this little piece of land donated it to the town for a park. A wonderful civic gesture. The town planner hired an architect and they devised a nice little set of plans laying out a somewhat elaborate park. Just a little over the top, but not that much. Request for bids went out as required by law, and a contractor was hired.

The contractor started work clearing the land and moving earth around and soon went bankrupt. Time marches on as the say. Nothing happened for a year or two. And then the EPA arrived on the scene to lend their help. Back in the 1800s there was a huge textile mill at this location. Everyone knows that old mills often breed contaminated soil. Why the town planner didn't bring the EPA in at the beginning, I do not know. It would seem to be a logical step. But two and a half years into the project they show up and put a stop on it.

It seems that they had to sit down with a qualified contractor and figure out how to deal with this soil. Since the public must be protected they ordered a very ugly chain link fence put up around the property. And there it sat for about another year. Suddenly one morning we woke up to the sound of heavy machinery. Progress at last. The contaminated soil got covered, the site got graded and then it sat. Progress stopped. Time passed. Shrubs got installed and it sat. Time passed. Lighting and benches got installed and it sat. Time passed. Pavement was paved and grass seed was strewn and it sat. And it sat. And it sat.

Your humble scrivener called the town planners office at this point to let them know that our non-park had become over grown again. He told me had noticed that himself and would get a crew in there soon. And it sat. Lo and behold, one morning I drove out of the parking lot and found that he was true to his word. It was all mowed and plucked and prettied up. But that ugly chain link fence was still there. And it still sat.

As I try to be civic minded myself, I usually read the weekly free newspaper. It's really quite good and you can't argue with the price. What did I find but a nice little article about our fence girded non-park.  Apparently one of the high ranking town officials while looking at the non-park accidentally turned around. And what to his wondering eyes did appear? How about two buildings of senior housing. In the tried and true tradition of civic officials everywhere he apparently said, "oh my God, where did those buildings come from? We must do something to protect those doddering oldies. They might try to cross the road to get to the park". The buildings, by the way, have been there since the 80s. They  didn't just sneak in in the dark of night.

So now about five year down the line the town officials decide they need a traffic study. Everyone stop and hold your position we must get the police involved and a qualified engineering company to do said study. I have just given you the extra long definition of linear thinking. There is no reason on earth that all of these tasks could not have been identified at the beginning, tucked into a job flow chart and handled efficiently. In industry it would have been. I have been there and I have done that.

So here we are five years down the line and still no park. I suspect that at this time next year I can publish this same little essay with an addenda, but still no park. The point being government is not efficient. If they take over things like health care it will not go well. If Obamacare does last and you suffer the results, you won't be able to say you heard it here first, but, at least, you will be able to say you heard it here. Preserve America!

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