Thursday, June 25, 2015

How Government Really Works-Part LXXIV

The VA is having a bad time.  The auditors just found they had parked money with the Government Printing Office, $43 million in fact.  See Lisa Rein's piece in the Post.

My narrative from the story: Gen. Shinseki gets appointed head of VA by Obama, as a reward for being "right" on Iraq, or at least disputing the number of troops required.  Like most political, and even nonpolitical, heads of agencies, he has some pet ideas.  One such, is that every veteran needs a handbook to explain to him or her what VA benefits are available, how to get, them.  Such a handbook must run to many pages, and the number of veterans is many millions, so the cost of printing the handbooks is also in the millions.  The GPO handles government printing, and charges the agency the cost plus a service fee.

Now since the handbook is the pet idea of the boss, the VA bureaucracy naturally turn to to implement it. So they find the money to print the handbook, and since the contents may change, they plan to redo the process every couple years.  To finance the printing, they transfer money into their account with GPO, to be available when needed.  However, apparently (Rein's not quite clear or maybe the auditors weren't) the bureaucrats forgot about the money, or maybe (more likely IMHO) the people changed and the new people didn't know. 

The points I read into the narrative: the bigshot's pet idea, the eagerness of the bureaucrats to satisfy him. 

I'm a veteran.  I'm also a former bureaucrat.  I'm reasonably comfortable reading prose. I'm likely more able to parse VA text than 95 percent of my fellow veterans. There's no way I'd read a handbook from the VA, at least not since the Internet.  So I think Shinseki's idea, though well-intentioned, was a waste of money in the first place. 

I can imagine the VA bureaucrats being delighted to do it--unlike ideas Shinseki may or may not have had to change VA operations, a handbook is easy to do.  All it requires is money. You please the boss, and look good yourself without the pains of upsetting the boat.

Unfortunately, as a pet idea there's no ongoing organization behind it, so the dollars at GPO get a little lost.

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