Dave Freer, fellow expatriate South African and author, has been fighting bureaucrats in Australia for years over some land he bought and the house he built on it. He writes about his misadventures (some of them, anyway) in a recent blog post. Reading it, it looks like Australian bureaucrats have taken official obstructionism to new levels… but US bureaucrats are nothing to sneeze at in the tear-your-hair-out stakes.
I’ve been fighting the bureaucrats for the best part of two years over my work-related injury back in 2004. Medical benefits for its long-term after-effects were cut last year, without any explanation. I’ve been going back and forth with those involved all this time, trying to figure out what happened and solve the problem. Finally, just yesterday, I received a letter that looks as if it’ll at least partly resolve the issues. It’s been month after month of beating my head against a bureaucratic brick wall. To call it “frustrating” is a monumental understatement! Still, all that effort appears to have paid off, at least in the short term. I somehow suspect it won’t be a long-term resolution, but we’ll deal with future hurdles when we come to them.
I suppose, at its most basic level, the problem is one of sheer numbers. In past generations, there were never enough people to overwhelm administrative systems. Bureaucrats could shuffle papers around fast enough to cater to the needs of most of those who came to them. Nowadays… not so much. The populations of our urban centers have grown so much that their sheer numbers overwhelm service offices; and the slow, steady decline in the quality of our education system means that many of those seeking assistance, and many of those administering it, no longer have a clear understanding of what they’re doing, and how, and most importantly why they’re doing it. It’s become just a long, endless round of filling out forms, getting them rubber-stamped, and then issuing more forms for the next stage in the process. What used to be done by a single clerk during a single visit is now often spread over several visits, each to a different person.
A friend has recently experienced a bureaucratic Catch-22. She needs to get her son a picture ID, so that he can travel by air and get a learner’s license. However, to get a state picture ID, she needs him to have a Social Security card. He doesn’t, because he’s never had one issued before; but Social Security offices are closed across the nation as a precaution against COVID-19. It seems that due to documentation issues, without an in-person consultation, her son can’t get a Social Security card, even though he already has a Social Security number. The state bureaucrats won’t accept a Social Security number as valid unless it’s on a valid Social Security card – so they won’t issue him a picture ID. Result: his parents have to drive him long distances from time to time, or find other ways to get him where he needs to go.
I will say this, though: Texas state bureaucrats are among the nicest and most friendly of their ilk I’ve ever encountered. There seems to be a strong culture throughout this state’s government that their job is to make citizens’ and residents’ lives easier, not more complicated. It’s generally been a pleasure dealing with them, even if there have been obstacles to be overcome. My previous experience with state bureaucrats in Louisiana (execrable!) and Tennessee (slow and laborious) was not good; but coming to Texas has been an eye-opener as to how things could and should be done.
What about you, readers? I’m sure many of you have your own horror stories about dealing with bureaucrats (and perhaps some pleasant surprises, too). How about sharing them with us in Comments?