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Vivek Kundra On US Government Inefficiency 306

Posted by kdawson
from the manila-folders dept.
parkland writes "Federal CIO Vivek Kundra described some dismaying government inefficiencies in a speech on Thursday at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs in Seattle. It takes 160 days to process benefits for veterans, he said, 'because the Veteran's Administration is processing paperwork by passing manila folders from one desk to another.' Another example bound to make you grind your teeth is why it takes the Patent and Trademark Office 3 years to process a patent. 'One reason,' says Kundra, 'is because the USPTO receives these applications online, prints them out, and then someone manually rekeys the information into an antiquated system.'"
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Vivek Kundra On US Government Inefficiency

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  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:27PM (#31372838) Journal
    Is because there's no consequence for them doing a bad job, so they can take their own sweet time. You have to screw up pretty badly to get fired by the Federal government.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pojut (1027544)

      I never understood this. You would think the entity in charge of keeping things running would want them done quickly and accurate...the amount of trashy, incompetent work and workers that the US Government voluntarily puts up with has always been a confusing subject. There are plenty of skilled people out there who likely would work for the government, if it wasn't so damn inefficient.

      Hell, I would...

      • by Korin43 (881732) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:53PM (#31373166) Homepage
        Just think about how it works. In a normal company, if you're inefficient, you make less money. The government never makes money, but if it loses more money, it can just raise taxes and hire more people (added benefit: "I created jobs").
        • Failed Logic (Score:4, Informative)

          by mpapet (761907) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:00PM (#31373274) Homepage

          In a normal company, if you're inefficient, you make less money.

          You could not be more wrong. In most large companies, what passes for efficiency is neither faster nor cheaper. Success is based mostly on being the loudest with the deepest pockets.

          In small companies, it is merely the persuasive abilities of the customer facing people and the rare pragmatic customer.

          Seriously, it it time for this doublethink to die.

          The government never makes money
          Yes, they do. Fees? Penalties? Taxes? It's time for the "Government is the root of all inefficiency" to die.

          • Re:Failed Logic (Score:5, Informative)

            by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:43PM (#31373850) Homepage Journal

            The government never makes money
            Yes, they do. Fees? Penalties? Taxes? It's time for the "Government is the root of all inefficiency" to die.

            My power company [cwlp.com] is owned by the city government, and it turns a profit. It also has the lowest rates in the state, and the most dependable electricity. Its customer service is stellar. If the customer service or dependability drops, or if rates rise too much, it's guaranteed to cost the Mayor the next election.

            It doesn't hurt that Mr. Burns [sj-r.com] runs CWLP. [sj-r.com]

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Grishnakh (216268)

              That's not the same as the government, and is probably a public benefit corporation [wikipedia.org]. There's lots of public benefit corporations out there that are fairly successful at what they do, such as the MTA in NYC, which runs the subways there.

              These companies are run much like other corporations, except there's more government oversight (since the government owns them), and there's no big profit motive to please shareholders like publicly-owned corporations have. They don't have the power to levy taxes or anythin

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Z34107 (925136)

            Way to be intentionally obtuse. Fees, penalties and taxes aren't examples of making money - that's taking money made by those "loud" and "persuasive" business.

            Now I'm waiting for you to tell me that money is actually "made" by the Treasury and Mint.

          • Re:Failed Logic (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Korin43 (881732) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:58PM (#31374022) Homepage

            Yes, they do. Fees? Penalties? Taxes? It's time for the "Government is the root of all inefficiency" to die.

            There's a difference between making money and taking money.

            You could not be more wrong. In most large companies, what passes for efficiency is neither faster nor cheaper. Success is based mostly on being the loudest with the deepest pockets.

            What passes for efficiency hardly matters. If a company wastes less money, it will have more money. It's logically impossible for it to be otherwise. And don't start on crap like "But some companies waste money and then their income goes up", if a company spending money causes its income to increase, it obviously wasn't a waste.

          • Re:Failed Logic (Score:4, Insightful)

            by ArsonSmith (13997) on Friday March 05, 2010 @03:47PM (#31374656) Journal

            you seem to have no clue what making money is. A company makes money by creating something and exchanging that something to someone else for money, thus both parties profit.

            Fees Penalties and taxes are not making money they are taking money.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by PTBarnum (233319)

              I guess it depends on what your definition of "creating something" is. Does a private CPA create anything? Does the road repair crew in your city create anything? What's the line between useful work and useless work?

      • I wouldn't. Not again, anyway. Even State Government was too strange for me- policies limiting the ability of workers to get the information they needed, combined with an attitude that if you did your job well enough to actually have the time to do your job well, then you must not be the type of employee they wanted.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by diskofish (1037768)
        Apparently you've never heard the phrase "good enough for government work".
      • by fm6 (162816) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:14PM (#31373454) Homepage Journal

        You would think the entity in charge of keeping things running would want them done quickly and accurate.

        Large organizations don't have collective will. They consist of huge numbers of people, each with their own agenda. And it doesn't help when the organization reports to elected officials who need to bring home the pork in order to stay in office.

        Bad as the current federal bureaucracy is, it actually used to be much worse. Before civil service rules (the same ones that make it so hard to fire people), government jobs were filled by "patronage" meaning that the politicos used them to reward their supporters. Up until the 60s, the chairman of the party that held the White House was always the Postmaster General, the Post Office being the single biggest source of patronage in the U.S. government. The PO was finally so badly run that they reconstituted it as the semi-autonomous Postal Service.

      • by hey! (33014) on Friday March 05, 2010 @04:44PM (#31375338) Homepage Journal

        There's a kind of inside joke government workers use when there aren't outsiders around. It goes like this: "A guy comes into the office and asks, 'How many people work here?'. So I say, 'Oh, about half of us.'"

        The truth is that if you look at any government agency where things get done, there will be a cadre of people who go above and beyond to make that happen. It's not easy getting things done under the rules politicians insist upon. I'm talking about the people who believe in public service, and the agency mission. I have a friend who works for HUD. He's passionate about access to housing for poor people. I've also known lots of absolutely stellar people working unglamorous and thankless public health and environmental protection jobs in the government sector.

        I even knew an IRS auditor. All he wants from the vast majority of people is truthful documentation and an honest effort at tax compliance. As long as you do that he'll cut you all the slack he can find in the regulations. Why? Because most people *can't* commit very much fraud. IRS already has most of the money you owe. What little fraud an average guy can commit is so unlikely to succeed it's usually just a mistake. But he has to deal with people who are mad at him because of how much tax the law says they have to pay, because the politicians who wrote those laws use auditors as a scapegoat. They'd like to reduce the number of auditors so the small number of people who have the financial sophistication to attempt serious fraud can get away with it.

        Here's the take home lesson: everything you hate about government isn't the fault of government employees. It's the fault of the politicians you elect to office.

        I've worked with many state governments as a private contractor. Every time the politicians get caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they pass "ethics reform" that applies to state workers *but not to themselves*. How dumb do we have to be not to figure that out? I've seen state employees who have to pay expenses out of their own pocket when they travel because the state travel reimbursement rates won't cover a decent hotel room. But the politicians are *still* flying off to those resort junkets.

        So what about that other half? The half of government employees that's not really doing much work? They're the politicians' fault too. One thing I've learned in business is that good people are usually a bargain at whatever price they can command, but bad ones are worse than useless and still cost you money. In most cases I'll take a guy who can command 100,000 in a field that normally pays 80,000 over four guys who can only command 50,000 in that field.

        I've also seen some really, really horribly corrupt places. They're not the norm, but you see them where there's a lot of political cynicism about public service. It is not a chicken or the egg problem. It's the politicians. They rail against *employee* corruption, but they don't take any effective steps against it because that would be breaking their rice bowl. For Chrissakes they talk about how bad the government *they're in complete control of* is? How stupid can people get?

        These are places where government is low-paid, and workers utrageously disrespected. Of course they attract a lot of people who think that honest public service is for suckers. I can tell you stories that would make your hair stand on end. But you know what, the people who keep voting for the same crooks deserve that kind of service. What is amazing is that there are *still* people there who give honorable service under those conditions. In fact those people in the "half that works" are even more important, because they aren't 1/2 of workforce. They're maybe 1/4.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is because there's no consequence for them doing a bad job, so they can take their own sweet time. You have to screw up pretty badly to get fired by the Federal government.

      Sadly, the same is pretty true in corporate America. Heck, my father used to get excel files on floppy disks mailed to him every month in manilla envelope, because no one could configure their corporate e-mail system to allow larger file sizes and most managers didn't know how to attach files (this was in 2002).

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I work in a similar environment at the moment, except, I'm a co-op student and am not sure that I can ask other people to do extra work to "do things right". Why? Because we're already working overtime just to get things done.

        Though changing processes might make things more efficient in the future (and we have had large projects that are made to do just this, going on even now...) we can't seem to afford the time to fix *everything* at once. The result? We're waaaaay behind.

        Is there some kind of solution to

        • by eln (21727) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:15PM (#31373474) Homepage
          Basically, you do what you can to make your own job more efficient. With any luck, if you advertise that well enough to your superiors, you'll move up in the ranks and be able to apply efficiencies to more and larger processes. Eventually, if you stick to it long enough and get the right breaks, you'll be able to transform the whole company into a much more efficient operation.

          Of course, all of this will take 30 years, by which time all of the stuff you did in your early years will be hopelessly antiquated, and all of the lower-level employees will be constantly complaining about how inefficient everything is. Then, some other enterprising individual deep in the lower levels will start doing whatever he can to make his own job more efficient. With any luck, if he advertises that well enough to his superiors, he'll move up in the ranks, and so on.

          Change in large organizations is hard and it takes a long time. Right now a lot of larger organizations are using processes that would have seemed mind-blowingly efficient in the 1980s, or even 1990s, but seem hopelessly out of date today. Companies (and governments) do update process, and do get more efficient, but it takes a long time and a whole lot of effort.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by billcopc (196330)

          Just let time take its toll on you. Young people think they can do anything, wise people know they can't. I'm still in that transitional phase.

          Most of the time, it's easier to get a new smarter dog (or business), than to teach an old one new tricks. Sometimes you just have to let the big guy collapse under his own weight, then rise up with a new solution.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Hehe, do you think this has gone away? I am working for a firm that has several multinational corporations as clients. A sizable number of them demand the documents we prepare for them to be sent on 3.5 inch floppies by mail. The internal bureaucracies of corporations are not a wee bit more agile than government bureaucracies. Actually, dealing with our local patent office here is way more modern than dealing with most of our private industry clients. Heck, *I* get my e-mails printed out and brought to my d
    • by garcia (6573) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:45PM (#31373062) Homepage

      Is because there's no consequence for them doing a bad job, so they can take their own sweet time. You have to screw up pretty badly to get fired by the Federal government.

      More than likely there are several reasons for this (not necessarily all at the same time--but perhaps):

      1. They want to continue to increase staffing in their department. By proving that they are "swamped" with work they have more ability to do so. This increases the budget and thus the clout that the particular department has.

      2. The process to upgrade the systems, and fill in all the historical information, would be too difficult on all levels (financial, training, and time) to do. It's easier to continue the antiquated processes.

      3. The staff hired has been done so at a specific level of understanding. Upgrading the systems will create issues for these older unionized employees and thus they would need to be moved to another job, retrained and given a new job description and pay increase, or outright let go. Unions protect the employees against any kind of common sense options here and thus the status quo is preserved.

      4. Some random political reason that we are not privy to.

      5. The new system will not work nearly as well as the old because of various reasons including malice, incompetence, and bugs.

      ---

      As a student of public administration, someone who lived through unionized state employment, and someone who tries to ensure the taxpayers are insulated from rising costs, I understand the desire for change to increase productivity and decrease time but the costs involved (human and otherwise) are much bigger than you'll ever care to think about.

      Seriously, sometimes it's just better to live in the current world than bother screwing with something that "works".

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by phantomfive (622387)

        Unions protect the employees against any kind of common sense options here and thus the status quo is preserved.

        This is a perfect example of why people dislike unions, and why they are so unpopular in the US.

        • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday March 05, 2010 @03:31PM (#31374478) Homepage Journal

          It's a perfect example of untrue but widely believed anti-union propaganda. This cop's union didn't help him [chicagobreakingnews.com], nor should it have. If your're caught stealing office supplies, your union won't help you. If you're reprimanded or fired for smoking in a no-smoking area, your union won't help you. If you're a "no call no show" your union won't help you. If you show up for work drunk your union won't help you. If your boss trumps up some bullshit charge because he just doesn't like you, then your union WILL help you.

          This is an example of an untrue statement being widely believed simply because it's been parroted so many times. If you work for a paycheck, you're probably better off with a union.

          • by FriendlyPrimate (461389) on Friday March 05, 2010 @03:41PM (#31374580)
            That's exactly true. People in the U.S. dislike unions because they've been brainwashed into believing statements like "Unions protect the employees against any kind of common sense options".
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Chibi (232518)

            It's a perfect example of untrue but widely believed anti-union propaganda. This cop's union didn't help him, nor should it have. If your're caught stealing office supplies, your union won't help you. If you're reprimanded or fired for smoking in a no-smoking area, your union won't help you. If you're a "no call no show" your union won't help you. If you show up for work drunk your union won't help you. If your boss trumps up some bullshit charge because he just doesn't like you, then your union WILL help y

      • by roman_mir (125474) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:39PM (#31373804) Homepage Journal

        As a student of public administration, someone who lived through unionized state employment, and someone who tries to ensure the taxpayers are insulated from rising costs, I understand the desire for change to increase productivity and decrease time but the costs involved (human and otherwise) are much bigger than you'll ever care to think about.

        - I would say that you should be one of the last people who we should listen to then, when it comes to such advices.

        You are saying you want to ensure that the taxpayers are insulated from rising costs, and I say you do them no favor. First, by insulating anyone from reality, you are creating a false sense of stability in a system that is really not stable and any change to status quo will be much more violent an dramatic than if the change was gradual and somewhat constant. Second, by insulating anyone from reality, you are hiding the problems in the system. If people were not insulating from the rising costs, they would pay more attention to what is happening around them politically.

        My point is valid, look at what just started happening at Berkeley [google.com] and some other universities. People, when their money is at stake (and in this case it is obviously about money, as in education costs) will become politically active. If you want political activism resulting in violence, then go ahead, protect people so that they don't know what happens and by the time they even understand it, it's when everything is fucked.

        From my perspective, as usual, the government is together with the corporations, they are working together to screw the middle class people and to take everyone's money. Everyone's. This is not about party affiliations, this is about governments printing money, ensuring huge monopolies by creating idea of preferred corporations, who get deals on money. Banks, traders, mutual funds, construction companies, manufacturers like weapons firms etc, energy firms, those who know that they must lobby the government to remain powerful and rich, they create a situation, which mixed with the fact that the news agencies also are now corporations ran by the same people, take over the entire system. The government is absolutely 100% corrupt and cannot be redeemed. Almost every individual in the government is corrupt to some degree, but in the totality, the system is completely corrupt and it will cause destruction of currencies, not just the US dollar, some others as well.

        I am not blaming unions for this, they are just part of the entitlement problem, but they are not the cause. However unions should not be allowed anywhere near government jobs. What the hell is it, that allows government to be a monopoly on laws and regulations and timelines but at the same time allows government to strike so that people who pay taxes cannot even get the services they paid for by the taxes. Why should government have ability to prevent reduction in costs by enforcing artificial structures that prevent these reductions?

        At this point though, these questions are irrelevant. The government has failed and in some not very long amount of time the people will be left with a failed country. The rich have already done the transfer of their wealth abroad, they already have the corporations, the bank accounts, the physical gold and other commodities, enough to live through currency and state collapse, they will be fine. The poor, (the middle class I mean, they are the poor), will not be able to stop this, most of them will not even know what hit them when it hits. Right now it is the rising unemployment, but wait a bit, it will be the devalued money, the impossible un-payable debt, the worthless property in places that have no production left.

        This is what happens when you just provide them with bread and circuses and insulate them from reality for just enough time so that the cunning masters take everything away by devaluing the currency and making sure that they are again, the only ones with real wealth left.

      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday March 05, 2010 @03:09PM (#31374198) Homepage Journal

        I have an old friend who works for the post office (he repairs mail boxes), and your list is valid except for item 3. Mike's union is all for the government giving its members more training, as long as they're getting paid for the training. And they can't be "outright let go" without cause; layoffs must be by seniority.

        He gets paid a lot better than me, I wish I had HIS union! Of course, his job is physical and not much fun, while I screw around with computers all day, so it evens itself out I guess. Money isn't everything.

    • by xzvf (924443) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:46PM (#31373076)
      Government jobs, Federal, State and Local are almost treated like a jobs program. Everyone has heard the noise when tax receipts (I refuse to call it revenue) fall short and people have to be let go. The stimulus plan was the Federal government borrowing money to save the jobs of State and Local employees. In my town alone Police, Fire, Teachers and Construction have been hired with two years of stimulus funds. When the money runs out in a year, do we get a new Federal stimulus? The Feds don't have to be efficient, because they have no competition, and if you put 25% of government workers out, unemployment goes up another 5%. There is no reason to do things better if it reduces the number of workers.
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:53PM (#31373170) Journal
      One talking guy suggested that the reason government in the US is inefficient is because we expect it to be, and I think there is some truth to that. When was the last time you ever heard a politician say, "government is inefficient, and here is how we can make it more efficient!" It wouldn't be hard, there is so much low-hanging fruit on the tree of inefficiency. You could allow useless people to be fired, or change budgeting procedures so saving money is rewarded instead of punished.

      But we don't have any politicians who think like that, instead we have Republicans who say, "government is too big, we need to either cut it or cut its budget" and Democrats who seem to try to pretend the issue doesn't exist, I don't know what they are doing.

      In other countries, a government job is something you go to college for, and are trained for. It is something prestigious, and requires (often difficult) exams. I am not saying we should do this in the US, but I think we should be aware that there are alternatives, so we can choose which one we want.
    • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:54PM (#31373176)
      So, does that explain the rampant inefficiencies in Corporate America? The bigger *any* organization gets, the less efficient it becomes. There's a secretary sitting at a desk at Bank of America who knows how to cut her workload by 25%, but it'll never happen because her douchebag manager is out playing golf or banging the copy girl, etc. Such is life.
    • Also because the people that move the manila folders from desk to desk value their jobs too. When 5 jobs in an office could be eliminated by a software update in the private sector they eliminate the jobs. When the same thing happens in the public sector they either keep the old system or upgrade to a new system that creates 5 more jobs. My own experiences have show that when the government goes paperless you end up with twice the amount of paperwork because everyone still needs a hard copy. This is impossi
    • by conureman (748753)

      There may not be any way to improve the system. My girlfriend works for Contra Costa County. The primary, proprietary {steaming pile} of software that she uses seven [oh, yes, they laid some people off, so some caseload has been redistributed, and you'll be taking some days off, so we won't have to pay you so awfully much; Oh no! You mustn't work at home, or any overtime, and... why no, you WILL need to have all of your work done by the end of each month] days a week randomly deletes completed work rather t

    • by Hadlock (143607) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:26PM (#31373610) Homepage Journal

      On the flip side, you'll almost never get fired for doing your work slow as long as you get it right and don't piss anyone off. Getting promoted for doing it quickly and correctly yes, but if you have no ambition, slow and never getting fired works great for lots of people just hanging around waiting for their (years worked=sweet gov't pension) to pay off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gumbi west (610122)
      Given your theory, can you explain why medicare is the lowest overhead medial care system in the US and the highest rated on customer satisfaction? The fact of the matter is that large organizations always have lots of efficiency loss (even super far right libertarian economists admit this) but sometimes there is also a size gain that outweighs this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CherniyVolk (513591)

      There are consequences, some of them dire.

      OK, first let's look at the F22 Raptor or the MiG-35. Arguably, the final word in modern aviation, these aircraft demonstrate a great deal of progress in aviation and all other relevant scientific application. A lot of technology, some of the technology is the very spear head of their relative fields.

      Now, there are VAX/VMS systems still used in the military. I'm not talking about some old geek with one in his garage that he tinkers with, no, these archaic machine

  • Inefficiencies. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by saintlupus (227599) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:28PM (#31372844) Homepage

    I work in academia, which is in many ways culturally similar to working in government. I wonder how many of these inefficiencies persist in order to placate an aged workforce that refuses to embrace technology and learn to do anything in a new way.

    I see a lot of people around here just sort of "running out the clock" - I can't imagine we're unique.

    --saint

    • by Valdrax (32670) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:44PM (#31373054)

      I see a lot of people around here just sort of "running out the clock" - I can't imagine we're unique.

      Pfft. That's everywhere -- government, academia, and the private sector. The bit about not updating your technology to placate a stagnant workforce is more prominent in the former two than the latter where people are replaceable commodities (aka "human resources"), but running out the clock happens anywhere that people don't take a lot of pride in their work and just want to collect a paycheck and go home.

      But even the private sector has legacy hardware to placate rather than update and replace. Why do you think COBOL and PL/I programmers did so well in the late 90s? Sometimes the pain of updating a process just can't be justified in the short term, and the private sector is even more focused on the quarterly/yearly budget than government & academia.

      I'll bet the USPTO has been wanting to replace that process for years if not decades. It's not like OCR and mapping translation software hasn't been around for forever. It's probably some combination of "costs to much," "too afraid to let things get backlogged in the transition," and "if it isn't broke (enough), don't fix it."

      • One source of the problem is that it takes time to do a replacement. And during that replacement either you run a doubled system for awhile, or you put up with LOTS of interruptions of service that last for unpredictable amounts of time.

        Yes, when you're through with the process, your system is a lot better and less expensive. But the intermediate stage is more expensive, and can last for an unpredictable amount of time. (Yeah, predictions are always insisted upon. But that's a CYA move. Everyone either knows, or should know, that they are basically unpredictable.)

        The obvious best answer is to run a doubled system while the new one is being put into place. Now justify this to the budget committee.

        P.S.: The essential unpredictableness of the time to fix a system being developed is one reason most software projects fail. The normal answer is you take your best guess as to how long a part of the project will take, and double it. This often isn't enough, and doubling everywhere will make the project too expensive to do, so...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheLink (130905)
      The private sector isn't that efficient either. Sure there are examples of efficient companies. But I bet there are also efficient government departments.

      Speaking of embracing technology and doing things in new ways, how many companies in the private sector have bosses who encourage meetings (especially internal ones) to be done using instant messaging/IRC?

      This increases productivity since employees can be in more than one meeting at the same time, and they can still do other stuff. They could even go to th
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by FooAtWFU (699187)

        The Wall Street Journal had a "defense of capitalism" editorial the other day which said that half the usual conservative defense was bogus, and the reason capitalism and a private sector is so good is that it promotes economic diversity, while government regulations and socialism promote a monoculture approach. I think this is a place that is aware of the pitfalls of "monoculture" enough to appreciate that.

    • It's not just age (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DesScorp (410532)

      I work in academia, which is in many ways culturally similar to working in government. I wonder how many of these inefficiencies persist in order to placate an aged workforce that refuses to embrace technology and learn to do anything in a new way.

      I see a lot of people around here just sort of "running out the clock" - I can't imagine we're unique.

      --saint

      It's not just the age of the workers... there are plenty of younger workers in the Federal Government. It's also a matter of jobs. Government unions are arguably the most powerful in the country, and thus are resistant to anything that would bring business-like efficiencies. Keep in mind that in the private sector, technological improvements allow you to do more with less. Why would Federal unions want that? Slowpoke paper operations keep more people on the payroll. If you brought modern information managem

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I work in academia, which is in many ways culturally similar to working in government. I wonder how many of these inefficiencies persist in order to placate an aged workforce that refuses to embrace technology and learn to do anything in a new way.

      I see a lot of people around here just sort of "running out the clock" - I can't imagine we're unique.

      --saint

      Government is heavily Unionized. This explains a hell of a lot of the problem.

      A staple hero of modern Unions is John Henry - the man that killed himself to beat the steam hammer. The rational of his heroism being that it was better for the men to keep their jobs doing back-breaking work rather than let the steam hammer do it better and let them move on to something that would kill them less.

      Unions celebrate inefficiency that maintains "jobs". They'd rather have 10 men do the work that one man with techno

  • And? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jack9 (11421) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:28PM (#31372846)

    I am Jack's unsurprised countenance.

  • There really is no excuse for this disgustingly large waste of money. Simple automation programming is so obvious I just can't imagine how incompetent the decision makers in these organizations must be.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OzPeter (195038)

      Simple automation programming is so obvious I just can't imagine how incompetent the decision makers in these organizations must be.

      Possibly because the applications are not "simple" and perhaps because you have never dealt with a bureaucracy of any reasonable size. Its not that individuals are dumb, its the cumulative effect of lots of people not having the 100% best picture

    • by PeterM from Berkeley (15510) <petermardahl@NosPAM.yahoo.com> on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:34PM (#31372936) Journal

      I bet the problem is budget.

      "Well, we'd like to stop doing these stupid things, but we don't have money to deploy a new system."

      And no one is willing to pony up the investment in modernization to save money in the long run. There are stupidities like this in every organization!

      It is all about the local minimum energy state.
      --PM

      • Nailed it. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by stomv (80392) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:48PM (#31373102) Homepage

        This is exactly right. Each department would most certainly like to improve efficiencies by streamlining the workflow with IT. The problem is that implementing that IT costs money above and beyond what they've got right now. How to pay for it?

        Incidentally, this would have been a great place for stimulus money. Inject money into the system right now (stimulus) in a way that lowers long term costs. Then, once it gets up and running (after months to years of defining, planning, implementing, and testing), you trim down those departments either through reassigning or through attrition.

        Yeah yeah, I know around here the perception is that civil servants exist in this parallel twilight zone where they lean on shovels all day at best or interfere with individuals at worst, but that perception simply isn't reality. Some departments are better than others, often because of leadership and resource availability, just like in the private sector and the non-profit sector. Hopefully the CIO can identify opportunities and find the funding to implement savings.

        On a side note, this does suggest a way to find those savings: check printing budgets over time. It seems that printing and then re-entering information may be common, and printing budgets may be helpful in identifying where these processes exist.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Thanks for the backup. I also want to add that MANY of the government (or whatever bureaucratic) workforce have a good work ethic. They are just so mired in bureaucracy and poor process they can make very little headway.

          Congress is partly to blame here. Want to buy ANYTHING for the Government? Well, you have to go through this Congressionally mandated checklist:
          1) Is there a disadvantaged business that can supply it?
          2) How about a small business?
          3) Prove you're not stealing from the Government, pleas

  • "This is not how to run a modern government in the 20th century," he said.

    Actually thats probably par for the course for the 20th century!

  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:31PM (#31372886) Homepage Journal

    I'd rather the patent office simply put the applications in the trash and never approve of anything.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:31PM (#31372888)

    Because the actual job of the government is not provide effective services, but to employ the most people to do the least effective job in a constant state of perpetual near-failure as to get larger budgets.

  • Healthcare (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iPhr0stByt3 (1278060) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:32PM (#31372896)
    We're all thinking it, so I'll say it: "Hey, let's let our government handle healthcare to increase effeciency"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by horatio (127595)
      There are only a few of us thinking that, including myself. The rest are now thinking we're trolls for bringing it up.
    • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:49PM (#31373116)

      We're all thinking it, so I'll say it: "Hey, let's let our government handle healthcare to increase effeciency[sic]"

      Obviously you haven't dealt with the private healthcare industry. The insurance companies (for example) actually have motivation to make simple task harder for their customers because their job is to get people's money then make it as hard as possible for people to ever get any back. So they invent useless paperwork and rules and procedures to discourage the process. Trust me, I've been there. When you're really, really ill you better hope you have some good friends because there is no way you're going to stay on top of the paperwork and phone calls needed.

      • by garcia (6573)

        The public sector has the same motivation for shifted reasons. By increasing the time required for work they can rationalize additional funding for their department/human capital.

      • by DesScorp (410532)

        I don't know what kind of insurance you have, but I think you need to look for a different provider. I have what is probably pretty run-of-the-mill Blue Cross, and I've been through a couple of surgeries, my wife has been through a couple, and we both have prescriptions, as well as two kids that occasionally get hurt and need emergency room visits, etc. And in all those years, I've filled out very little paperwork. The only thing I pay for up front is a co-pay for visits, surgeries, and drugs. The claim fil

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Jawn98685 (687784)
          "all automated", eh?
          You, sir, have no idea what you are talking about. The parent is right. The process is anything but automated, and deliberately geared to make it difficult for vendors to process claims and receive compensation. I work in the industry and have first-hand knowledge. I see these deliberate inefficiencies heaped upon the vendors (who get the blame for rising costs) every day. You truly have no idea about what really goes on. Alas, you have lots of company at the "private insurance must be
        • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Interesting)

          by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:35PM (#31373746)

          I don't know what kind of insurance you have, but I think you need to look for a different provider.

          None, because no one will sell it to me in the states.

          I have what is probably pretty run-of-the-mill Blue Cross, and I've been through a couple of surgeries, my wife has been through a couple, and we both have prescriptions, as well as two kids that occasionally get hurt and need emergency room visits, etc. And in all those years, I've filled out very little paperwork.

          Yeah, I used to have Blue Cross of Maryland, supposedly one of the best in the country because of stricter laws there. Then I experienced long term illness that wasn't one of the common problems, you know the couple dozen illnesses that make up 90% of cases. That's when the paperwork became insane. I wrote just my name address, phone number, and social security number on a sheet of paper almost every day for no reason whatsoever other than they needed me to write it for the twentieth time. That's annoying when you're well. When you're in and out of consciousness and vomiting all the time it's inhumane.

          . The only thing I pay for up front is a co-pay for visits, surgeries, and drugs.

          Yeah, thats fine until they start wanting multiple doctors to sign off on procedures and start denying procedures for no real reason. I ended up tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for procedures it was too difficult to get them to pay for.

          Just hope you never get sick to the point where the cost of your care starts to go above the profit them made from your premiums... you know what insurance is supposed to be for.

      • Re:Healthcare (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Archangel Michael (180766) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:18PM (#31373506) Journal

        actually have motivation to make simple task harder

        This is only because of how Health Insurance is currently structured. If we had high deductible insurance that didn't cover any maintenance, but only covered rare and emergency situations, then we'd have much lower overall costs.

        Insurance is a middle man that not only adds costs to the system, but skims money off the top of everything to boot. This doesn't make insurance companies evil, it just makes them less efficient.

        Want to make the system less susceptible to fraud and abuse? Bring the costs closer to the person who is ultimately paying the bills, the health care consumer.

        And now, the anecdotal case scenarios will be brought forward about how Grandma is eating dog food, and Tiny Tim needing help for his legs.

    • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Valdrax (32670) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:51PM (#31373142)

      We're all thinking it, so I'll say it: "Hey, let's let our government handle healthcare to increase effeciency"

      A single-payer system would eliminate a LOT of inefficiency at the doctor's office level in handling all the differences in the way insurance companies require you to submit claims.

      Also worth mentioning is the fact that processing claims faster than private sector healthcare companies is not a particularly high bar to raise in my experiences. It's not like the government has anything like a lock on slow, inefficient, customer-hating bureaucracies. The market doesn't really seem to do much to hold down healthcare costs or promote better customer care, if my limited pool of friends and family are any indicator.

      • by nschubach (922175)

        There's a perfectly valid and working single payer system right now. The customer.

        If the customer starts treating their car insurance like their health insurance, you'd dread getting your oil changed or tires rotated because of all the paperwork as well.

      • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Insightful)

        by joocemann (1273720) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:58PM (#31374018)

        Healthcare has no market.

        When the product is a NEED rather than a WANT, the whole tone of business is changed. Health insurance knows you NEED them, so they really don't give a fuck about you and know your dollars will flow in their direction no matter what you think about them.

        People opposed to single-payer are ignorant and/or complete liars; people who think health insurance 'markets' are competitive are simply blind to reality and echoing irrational rhetoric.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hoshino (790390)

      What's the use of all the private-insurer "efficiency" if they prefer to use it to screw you over for one more dollar?
      And I say "efficiency" because health insurance companies in US already have one of the highest overhead costs in the world, so you can hardly called it efficient.

    • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Insightful)

      by QuantumRiff (120817) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:58PM (#31373242)

      So if the government is a bunch of incompetent, inefficient morons who can never be as good as private industry, then why the hell do you care if they give people the OPTION of choosing a government plan?

      It should be obvious to you and your "its cool/trendy/rebelious to be libertarian**" buddies that the government plan will not have anyone sign up for it, and will flop. The Private plans will be cheaper, cover more people, and be fast to respond to needs of their wonderful customers!

      Right? So where is the objection?

      **I have been a registered Libertarian for 16 years.. I would love if anyone that lately claims to be a libertarian cause they got tired of being republican could actually state where the party stands on many issues.. And I'm getting tired of all the anger, lies, and misdirection lately.. Politics is just getting nasty...

    • Re:Healthcare (Score:4, Insightful)

      by X_Bones (93097) <danorz13@yahoPARISo.com minus city> on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:59PM (#31373258) Homepage Journal
      We're all thinking it, so I'll say it: "Hey, let's let our government handle healthcare to increase effeciency"

      uh, no. Some of us are thinking "hey, let's let our government handle healthcare because it's fucking criminal that for-profit entities are allowed to literally and figuratively bleed us dry in order to please their stockholders. And a big contributor to inadequacies in things like Medicare and the VA system stem from a lack of funds for improvements, either because people are too cheap and shortsighted to raise taxes or they have screwed up financial priorities like funding instead the biggest military on the planet so it can go bomb people overseas."

      But then again I'm one of those filthy Commies who wants a single-payer healthcare system in the US, so feel free to disregard anything I say.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by samkass (174571)

      We're all thinking it, so I'll say it: "Hey, let's let our government handle healthcare to increase effeciency"

      Let's mark that one up there with the "It's snowing, so global warming can't exist". We don't have to guess how it would work out, anyway. The fact is that Medicare and Medicaid are some of the most efficiently-run medical insurance programs in the country, with a higher percent spent on actual care than any private insurance company. It's too bad that even if the bill passes we wouldn't be able

    • Re:Healthcare (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jawn98685 (687784) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:26PM (#31373612)
      Yes, let's.
      Medicare overhead - ~5.2%-8% (depending on whose numbers you use)
      Private insurers' overhead - ~16%-35% (depending on whose numbers you use)

      So keep your government hands off my Medicare...
      Oh. Wait...
  • 'One reason,' says Kundra, 'is because the USPTO receives these applications online, prints them out, and then someone manually rekeys the information into an antiquated system.'" I wonder if they're using EBCDIC
  • As long as the USPTO is out there rubber stamping claims, then it's best that their rubber stamp is as inefficient as possible.

    The number of patents issued is already far too large and needs to be reduced by an order of magnitude from today's levels. In the absence of truly reforming the patent-industrial-complex to protect only truly exceptional innovations, government waste is better than nothing.

  • It's a good thing that he's identified the problem....but..he has no budgetary authority to influence the VA's IT spending decisions. If the VA does decide to upgrade their systems, it's the beltway bandits that will influence the choice of software..not Kundra.
  • You ever been to Hobby Lobby? The private sector can do it worse. And at least we can lobby or run for office to make the government use bar-code scanners.

  • by engineer_uhg (880695) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:56PM (#31373196)
    "It's a good thing we don't get all the government we pay for!"
  • by hey! (33014) on Friday March 05, 2010 @01:56PM (#31373202) Homepage Journal

    There are all kinds of ideological explanations for why this *must* be so, but I don't think they hold water.

    My first management job was at a largish non-profit where I inherited a three year IT request backlog. So I analyzed the backlog and discovered that most of it consisted of requests for software to speed moving decisions from what amounted to the user's in tray to the out tray, and pretty soon I realized all those in-out transformations formed a network. I charted out the network, and it was *obvious* that certain key information latencies could be reduced from 35 days to about half a day by rerouting the information through this network. In fact, most of the work in the network could be eliminated entirely, while providing better, But rather than spring this on people, I just laid out the charts and they figured everything out for themselves. That way I didn't have to persuade anyone.

    Now the interesting question was how this kind of situation could happen. It's not because the people were stupid. They weren't. It wasn't because they were lazy or not dedicated. Quite the contrary. Lack of profit motive certainly played a part in the evolution of the problem, but it did not create the least barrier to addressing the problem.

    What we had was two levels of people in the organization. People down in the ranks who cared about the mission of the organization and understood their local piece of the process. And people at the top who sometimes cared about the mission of the organization, but were mainly focused on shmoozing. But nobody had any idea what the *whole* process looked like. So the people in the ranks were largely left to guide themselves in solving problems. They were self-starters, they had initiative, what they lacked was a global understanding of how everything fit together. So they talked to their neighbors in the existing process about where they were under pressure, then they demanded the higher ups provide them with tools to reduce the pressure at individual points. The higher ups had no idea how to fix these things, so they just stuck the requests onto the back of a three year queue, and when things began to catch fire they'd demand the queue get resorted.

    But the queue shouldn't have existed at all. When folks were done applying common sense to the big picture I provided, most of the dreaded request queue evaporated. My backlog went forty months down to under thirty days, and I didn't have a lick of code written.

    What was missing was *leadership*. In my book leadership equals caring about the results plus understanding how the process works.

  • I'm glad SOMEONE has finally point out what some of these inefficiencies are. I (like many others here) consider myself a fiscal conservative. But it bugs the heck out of me that Republicans are always complaining about government inefficiency, but they never provide any evidence to back it up, or propose anything to improve the inefficiencies (except cutting taxes...whatever THAT's supposed to do). Republicans don't WANT to solve inefficiencies in government for fear of losing a useful campaign issue.
  • by mpapet (761907) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:08PM (#31373372) Homepage

    1. I hardly doubt this guy just fired off this screed on his own.
    2. So, Vivek, how much would a new Patent Administration cost? How long would it take? You wouldn't have your job long enough to see the project complete, successfully or otherwise.
    3. How about that VA system huh? Let's stake your entire career on changing it. Ohhh now that YOUR skin is in the game, suddenly the status-quo looks pretty good.

    For every system that can be selectively discredited, there are 10 or more that are cost effective and relatively efficient with competent government employees in them.

  • by Grond (15515) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:10PM (#31373384) Homepage

    The Patent Office does not do that and hasn't for years, except of course for papers that are mailed or faxed in. The Patent Office's Electronic Filing System [uspto.gov] is an end-to-end electronic system for the most part.

    Now, the EFS system does convert searchable PDFs to bitmap PDFs, which causes them to lose their searchability and greatly increases the file size, which is still incredibly backwards, but not quite as bad as printing things out and scanning them back in.

  • by walterbyrd (182728) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:11PM (#31373418)

    How many mega-disasters have we read about here on slashdot that go like this: some government wanted to upgrade their outdated system, so they hired some ultra-expensive contracting company. The project went way over-budget and took way longer than estimated. By the time it was done, it was obsolete. Besides being obsolete, nothing worked correctly. The government spent insane mega-bucks to try and fix the borked project, but everything was too horridly broken to fix. So they decided to spend more mega-bucks to go back to the old system.

  • by terrahertz (911030) on Friday March 05, 2010 @02:32PM (#31373710)
    In a previous life I made my living working for a mortgage lender that did a high volume of VA and FHA loans. Though the end result of the loan origination process in the FHA/VA world is the same as that when dealing with a commercial bank (property owner gets check, loan applicant gets house and mortgage), the "how you get there" was completely different.

    Perhaps the single biggest difference, at least in terms of impact on my job, was the trouble resolution process.

    All the banks operated slick websites with functioning trouble-ticket systems, staffed call centers with actual human beings you could talk to about your issues, and generally made an acceptable effort to fix problems.

    When you had a technical problem with FHA or VA, what could you do? You could email a generic mailbox with your question and hope for the best. That's it!

    Once I managed to track down a real, somewhat technically-aware human being at the VA so I could inquire about a persistent, apparently unaddressed trouble we were having accessing a particular feature of the va.gov site. Her answer? "Yeah, that goes down all the time, just give it a few days and they'll get it fixed." This was accepted as normal there, and probably still is.

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