Thursday, July 15, 2004

Great Moments in Bureaucratic Stupidity...
I had two major thoughts (imagine that, two in the same week!) about the nature of bureaucracies again this past week. One concerned itself with a personal item and the second with something I saw on the news.

We'll start with the second item. In Utah, a 12 year old boy was found chained, beaten, half-starved, stabbed with a fork and otherwise abused, at the hands of his parents. His five siblings (fortunately) were unhurt (that we know of, at this point). The State of Utah has removed the abused boy and arrested his parents, as it should have. While this ghastly story was being discussed on Dayside with Linda Vester, two representatives of the State of Utah were brought in to describe just what action the state might take.

The first gentlemen was Paul Parker, the district attorney for the jurisdiction in question. When asked, point blank, are the other five siblings being placed in foster care or otherwise being taken from their parents, his answer, with a straight face, was: No. Why not? Well, he explained, he had no authority to take children from their parents, even if there was evidence of abuse in the home. It was not his turf. In a case where he might have reason to do so, he would require evidence that individual children were being abused, and that the allegation of abuse against one child, did not automatically mean that ALL the children were being abused. As a matter of logic, this is impeccable. As a matter of common sense, this is ridiculous. As a matter of STATE LAW this is a TRAVESTY. I don't know just whatthe law is in Utah, but if it were up to me, any parents that abused one child would almost certainly abuse their other children should be taken away without consideration for the niceties of black-letter law. This is a crack through which some other child will definitely slip one day, tragically.

The next gentleman was Adam Trupp, a spokesman for the Division of Child and Family Services. According to his version of events, this family was being monitored by his division, which sent councilors and offered a variety of programs to the parents, but did absolutely nothing of substance. This, again, was all according to state law, and apparently is intended to give social workers a job without them actually having to do anything. Again, his explanation for doing nothing vis-a-vis getting those kids out of that house was that the prescribed process for evaluating the danger to the children was being followed (apparently for a long time) and no one had made a determination as to whether the children were safe or if the parents were abusive. This, despite the fact that the family was known to his bureau for quite some time. All that mattered was that the rules were being followed and the proper papers being filed.

My personal brush with bureaucracy this week came when I had to deal with Duke Power. Due to a misunderstanding (and I'll admit, it was my fault) my electric services were not registered under my name when I moved here. This past Saturday, I received a disconnect notice that would take effect Monday. So, I called Duke and asked what was happening. I made the necessary arrangements to fix this error before Monday, and was assured that power would not be cut off so long as I paid a deposit. The power was cut off anyway. SO, I went to where the customer rep told me to go to make the payment -- this payment center doesn't take deposits for new customers, you'll have to go somewhere else. I went somewhere else. I paid the money. My power stayed off for two days because the 21st century hasn't reached below the Mason-Dixon yet. Apparently electronic funds transfer is something totally unknown in this region of the United States.

So, I spent two nights in a hotel, calling twice a day, to make sure the payment was received. It finally was. This afternoon. Three days to electronically post a payment, if you can believe it. So, did Duke come to restore my power? No, of course not. When I called again to complain, I was told to do it myself -- find the breaker switches and turn them on.

Complain about any of these things; abused children, abusive parents, brain dead social workers, ignorant and lazy customer service reps, etc, and you'll always get the same story: not my job. Not my department. The rules don't let me do that. I don't make the rules, I just work here.

God forbid anyone should use common sense and a little initiative. However, I can guarantee you that should another child be abused, or should I electrocute myself while playing with a 220 volt breaker box, the bureaucracies in question would shake loose of their coma of inertia --- to defend themselves vigorously against lawsuits, pointing to their engraved-in-stone policies which make sense only to someone trained or raised in the bureaucracy in question. It always seems, though, that it takes a serious injury or even a death to make a corporation or a government agency responsive. Especially when the corporation or government entity in question is supposed to be SERVING the public to begin with.

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