Monday, February 19, 2007

Cake or death?

It's no wonder we're all cynical about government. We get regular large-scale reminders of the underhandness and deception of some adminstrations - Watergate and Iran-Contra stand out in my mind, and I've heard some people are distrustful of the current White House occupant - and a constant drip of little outrages that wear away what little trust might remain. Case in point, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority cake contract story reported by Matier and Ross in the SF Chronicle.

A typical reader shakes their head and (a) is outraged that cakes are being bought with taxpayer money and (b) can't imagine how much time and money went into writing the baroque 33-page contract the agency offered for providing $2,000 worth of cakes.

As far as (a), it's a little surprising they felt the need to budget and contract for cake, and that it was an acceptable expense. In the public agency places I've worked, all the office parties are paid for by the employees. That manilla envelope with the birthday card to sign is always going around, and everybody adds a couple of dollars. I don't know how they do things in Santa Clara Valley, but local government folks in these parts would never imagine the public sector throwing a Christmas party like some private sector people do. In that sense, we really do not want government to run like a business.

But the (b) is a little more interesting. If the 33 page contract was not an effort to avoid some regulation on purchasing (it was so detailed no one bid on it, which may have freed them to buy a fricking cake from whomever they choose) then it is a fine example of how government systems can be over-regulated into inefficiency. We all want a close eye on the public treasury, but if you can't spend $2,000 without a 33 page contract, you're not exactly running lean and mean. The demand for more and more oversight, more systems, more forms, more layers of government checking on each other, runs up the cost of governing ourselves. Say hello to the law of unintended consequences.

1 comment:

your daughter said...

"well, we're out of cake..."
"so, my choice is, 'or death'?"