Slow Death by Regulation, the Great Public-Sector Disease

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John Feldsted
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Joined: Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:45 am

Slow Death by Regulation, the Great Public-Sector Disease

Post by John Feldsted »

Joe Woodard
C2C Journal
July 31, 2020

One crisp autumn morning I was heading out the front doors of downtown Calgary’s big federal building, the Harry Hays, when I saw two of my co-workers at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, mid-level federal clerks, waiting at a bus stop. They were heading across town to oversee a federal contract with a non-profit immigrant settlement agency. But waiting at a bus stop? “Why don’t you guys take a taxi?” I asked, and got back the by-now familiar, long-suffering glower of civil servants, oppressed by their sanctimonious and ambitious deputy supervisors. “It’s such a pain-in-the-ass getting a taxi chit,” one of them whined, “and we have our own bus passes, so it’s just easier to take the bus.”

At the time, I had almost finished a six-year term as a Citizenship Judge, during which I’d watched the bureaucracy slide further into regulatory arteriosclerosis. When I started in 2012, taxi chits were in a mail-room desk with a binder: sign one out, use it, and return the copy. By 2017, the chits were controlled by two clerks, with multiple binders and a shiny new safe with closely-guarded combination. A safe for taxi chits. Had there been a taxi-chit scandal? Thousands of dollars in purloined chits?

No. An ambitious and therefore self-righteous deputy supervisor had seen an unexploited opportunity for micromanagement – called in our world “transparency” and “accountability”. So now, dispirited clerks rode public transit, wasting buckets of salaried hours. The bus-related lost productivity – five times the cost of a taxi? – never showed on a spreadsheet, but the meaningless reduction in taxi use did.

Now, if you’re interested in really supporting some charity, the first precaution is to check its “cost of administration,” the percentage of its revenue spent on itself. Most charities run administrative cost between 12 and 16 percent. A lean outfit like Feed the Hungry gets down as low as 7 percent, while others might run at 19 percent. But any charity spending over 20 percent of its revenue on its office operation is probably spending too much on itself, and its executives might be crossing that faint line between raising money for a cause and promoting a cause to raise money.

In 2007, if memory serves, then Auditor-General Sheila Fraser reported that the Government of Canada’s administrative costs had already surpassed 30 percent. And that was then. The wasted hours have been snowballing ever since. For example: We had occasional road trips for Citizenship ceremonies in Banff, Red Deer or Lethbridge. When I started in 2012, Ottawa would give its overall approval and afterwards we’d submit our travel, motel and per diem meal claims, and we were done.

By 2018, we had a new digitized travel system. Faster and simpler, right? Unfortunately not; now our expense accounts required pre-approval, post-approval and verification. If a staffer claimed a per diem for breakfast, an Ottawa clerk called their motel to verify there was no complimentary breakfast. On my last trip, I spent $238, but the additional administrative cost in my time, a supervisor’s time and a clerk’s time easily surpassed $500. After computerization. These supposedly time- and cost-saving technology upgrades became an opportunity for micromanagement, wasting everyone’s time.

It’s not just that Canadian governments of all levels claim half our economy, then waste probably one-third of that in shuffling accounts. It’s not just that our health-care and education systems have huge new cohorts of public employees with enormous appetites for public revenue. It’s not just that senior public servants now think that they’re the real builders of Canadian society – that we depend on them to “do good for us.” It’s not just that bureaucrats can now ignore our democratic institutions – Parliament, legislatures and councils. Our deeper problem is this: we’ve slid into a culture of control. Our world has changed. We now face a new kind of corruption.
Read on: ... disease/

The ‘disease’ quickly spreads to how our governments treat the public. We are regulated to objectionable and unreasonable lengths. The simplest request to a federal department or agency involves the need to prove your identity and often an exchange of e-mails to prove my identity. In some cases, the exchange requires snail-mail and a wait of a few days to obtain a password or other code to enable me to move my request forward.

Requests for information usually result in a reply that the government has 30 days to respond, often followed up by a notice that the government needs a further 30 days to be able to respond and a note that if I am not satisfied, I can appeal to the Access to Information Commissioner.

The civil service keeps growing, not to serve us better but to enforce ever-growing regulations on how the civil service operates. It is an ultimate in perpetual job creation and producing less with more people.

I encourage you to read the whole article above.

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