Friday, December 30, 2011

Commentary: The Problem With Government

As we enter a new year, and brace ourselves for the upcoming presidential election campaign, it appears that the enemy of many politicians and citizens alike on all sides of the political spectrum is, simply, government itself. Obviously this is not a new phenomenon--it has been building ever since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. From the Tea Party movement to the Occupy Wall Street protests, more and more people are speaking out against a government that increasingly does not seem to be protecting their interests.

I have never been someone who believes in the simplistic slogan that government itself is the problem. I believe that, when properly utilized, democratic government can be an amazing tool to create greater liberty, equality and prosperity for all.

But I do believe people are right about one thing--government often does not do a very good job of providing basic services to the people. For many of us, interacting with the government can be a frustrating, unsatisfying, and even degrading experience.

As an attorney who deals frequently with a variety of local, state and federal government agencies, I see this on a regular basis. It's the little things--waiting on hold for 20 minutes to speak to someone about a benefit application that was filed 9 months ago, then being told the paperwork you mailed in has been lost and must be resubmitted; fighting with local offices over fees they cannot legally charge; voice messages to government workers that are never returned; being spoken to rudely by a government telephone operator. Don't get me started on the TSA and how they treat people. I'm sure most of you reading this have encountered problems like these when dealing with the government.

The length of time it sometimes takes to access government services and benefits is ridiculous--over 12 months for veteran's benefits; over 2 years for Social Security disability benefits; over 6 months to get a decision on a Medicaid appeal.

The government agencies often say in response to such criticisms that lack of resources is to blame--lack of funds to hire more workers, lack of time to properly train workers, lack of funds to upgrade technology. It becomes a vicious cycle--the more we dislike government, the less we invest in it, which causes us to like it even less, and invest in it even less. It just goes on and on. Morale among government workers gets worse, turnover gets higher, and those who keep their jobs care about doing them well less and less.

Some people say we need to get rid of the bureaucrats and bring in people from business, people who know how to manage large organizations effectively. But if you have ever had to deal with customer service at most large banks, telephone companies, health insurance companies, etc., you know they are not very effective at managing their customer operations either.

I don't know what the solution is, but until government can take on a more helpful, customer-service-oriented attitude and provide basic services to the people more effectively, the massive protests and anti-government political feeling will continue.