Monday, September 8, 2014

Old limestone blues

Brian Lamb, on Q&A, had a most instructive lesson in Public Choice Economics last night, thanks to WAPO reporter David Farenthold. Seems the Federal Government has an office in a limestone mine in Pennsylvania where 640 employees shuffle paper all day long, so that other employees can retire from the same government;
[It is] an incredible process. It...started in the beginning with the paperwork coming in[to] the mine. We saw the giant carved out cavern. People sit at these desks inside of a cave and call others to get the missing forms from 1985 to complete the form. All of that work ends on the desk of someone else. She pulled at the computer program and her job is to take the information on paper and put it on the computer one line at a time. Screen after screen all of which has little blanks to answer questions. What were the three highest year of pay? All of these small little gradations. All seemed like a good idea. But now, they have not to build a system that  can automatically search so someone has to enter by hand in the computer spits out the payment.
Not that the government hasn't tried to modernize, spending $100 million on doing so, with no result yet.
People were working and working and no one in government really understood the system that was being built for them well enough to know if all the pieces would work together. They did not test until too late in the game that it would fail and they will basically give up and go to the old paper system [sic].
Nor that the employees care;
They like it. It is a steady job [with lots of overtime].  It is a strange place to work. You go down under the ground into sort of--you can tell you are in the cave. The roof is a jagged rock.
Fred Flintstone, call your cave.

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