Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Fraud and Speed

The Post today has articles on fraud at the Red Cross:
Fraud Alleged at Red Cross Call Centers: "Nearly 50 people have been indicted in connection with a scheme that bilked hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Red Cross program to put cash into the hands of Hurricane Katrina victims, according to federal authorities."
and the GAO's investigation of credit card fraud. The latter one buries this finding "The lists of purchases provided by five government agencies show nothing outrageous -- bottles of water, hundreds of maps of New Orleans and Texas, pizza dinners, and lots of insect repellent." But apparently GAO is looking at whether money could have been saved by better purchasing practices. The answer, of course, is "yes". As a Microsoft software engineer has written in connection with software, you can do software that's good, do it cheaply, and do it fast, but you can't do all three at the same time. At NASA they found that the"faster, better, cheaper" mantra had its limits. Or, as Robert Heinlein wrote, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

I suspect the best thing the government could do is set up two sets of rules: one set would apply when saving money is primary; the other set when speed is primary. A Presidential declaration of disaster could trigger the second set for the disaster area and for a designated period. Trying to design one set of rules for both scenarios is like designing a swimming camel.

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