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Rob Taub Headshot

In Search of Government Competence

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There are many annoying things about the NYC subway system, but the most maddening for me is the signage indicating when the next train will arrive. Last week at 6:07 p.m. on Wednesday I was waiting for the downtown local at 96th & Lexington when the sign indicated the next train would arrive in seven minutes. Twenty-two minutes later when the train came into the station it was so packed I was barely able to force my way into the car. Every stop was torturous and it took forever to reach 33rd Street. It was too crowded to read a magazine so I was forced to look at subway signage, the most annoying being advertisements urging me to ride the subways! (This is like an ad for Fairbanks, Alaska promoting frostbite.) Finally, what is the purpose of installing an expensive computerized time notification system if it seldom works!?

At the turn of the century NYC subways were originally built and run by private industry. Despite strict government regulation -- the fare was held to a nickel -- the subways made a profit and were considered well run. However, by 1940, as a result of rigorous regulation and pressure from unions (the subway workers union was a closed shop) the different subway lines were taken over by the city and over the years the prices rose outrageously (always in need of government subsidies) as the service declined dramatically.

Sometimes, when a public organization is poorly run -- like the post office -- private industry can retaliate and create effective businesses like Federal Express and UPS. Ask anyone who uses them and the difference between the service at the post office compared with FedEx and UPS and the result will be unanimously in favor of the latter two despite postal employees receiving substantially higher salaries and benefits.

This brings me to the TSA, another government run organization. I travel frequently and recently at La Guardia Airport on my way to Florida I came upon a TSA kiosk where I could obtain a pre-screening application that would enable me -- if qualified -- to bypass removing my shoes and be considered a "low risk traveler." I couldn't be processed on the spot because a passport is required, but I was assured that I would be able to easily complete it all online when I came back from my trip.

Upon my return three days later I went online only to find that the site was inaccessible as a result of too much traffic. I tried a few times of the next three days and encountered the same problem. About a week later I finally got online. I completed entering all my information (somewhat time consuming) and then received the message that all appointments at the NYC processing center are booked. I tried to go back to the previous page and immediately lost all of the information I had entered. To have attempted this again would have first required an anger management class, so I will wait until my next trip to an airport with the hope of encountering another kiosk.

The lesson here is this sort of incompetence is not exclusive only to Obamacare. Inefficiency is the status quo for all government run organizations, and until there is real change and reform within every existing entity, the government should not attempt running anything new.