Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Democrats Lose


If you want to be the pro-government party then, by God, when you get your hands on actual New!Money! to spend on an actual problem you have an iunbreakable moral obligation to get it right all the way down to the smallest detail.  Or, to quote Ricky Roma, "What you're hired for is to help us. Does that seem clear to you?  To help us, not to fuck us up!" Because when you, as a member of the pro-government party, are given such an opportunityand you fuck that up, you hand the bad guys a sword and invite them to impale every single Liberal out here in the cornfields trying to persuade the good people of flyover country that government can be used to help people here's what happens (from Tuesday's State Journal-Register):

Audit slams oversight of Quinn anti-violence programs

Three anti-violence programs administered by former Gov. Pat Quinn were so poorly monitored that nearly $4 million was lost to questionable expenses or unspent funds never collected, an audit released Tuesday concluded.

The review by Auditor General Frank Mautino included the controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, created by the Democratic governor in 2010 as he was running for election to a full term. Criticism of spending and oversight in news reports and an earlier audit haunted his failed re-election attempt in 2014.

The early 2014 audit lambasted the first two years of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, saying money rushed out the door so quickly that authorities had trouble keeping track of it. Mautino's review found that while Quinn responded to early criticism by transferring program administration to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, that agency didn't enforce its own rules.

In the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative alone, $2.2 million in unspent money was never recovered. Another program, the Chicago Area Project, had $427,000 of unspent money never recovered. 
The audit also questioned the veracity of $1.1 million spent on all three anti-violence programs.
Longtime readers of this blog may remember the "NRI" from several posts I wrote back in 2014 based on my experiences working under temporary contract with one of the outfits that was getting funding under this program.  I had prior experience successfully designing and running multi-million dollars programs, so even from my vantage point way down the food chain I could see that this was a massive clusterfuck-in-the-making.

And as has been my experience with very large and insulated bureaucracies since I was but a wee driftglass, no one up in the command center of a Very Bad Idea wants to hear that they are about to run their reputations, good intentions and millions of taxpayer dollars straight into the rocks.

So since this is the only gig where I can say what I want and no one from HR is going to call me 10 minutes later and tell me to clear out my desk, I will indulge myself by re-posting part of what I wrote a few years ago...

...From top to bottom, the problem with the NRI wasn't just that the program was a goddamn mess.

It was -- like many an IT project I slogged through back in the days of old -- depressingly clear from a mile away that it was wired to be a goddamn mess from the start.  The people at the top appeared to be sincere, but had no idea what they were doing.  The cost-controls were zilch.  The project plan was "throw a buncha stuff at it and hope it works out".  There were dozens of complex moving parts, all on different schedules, all run by different people, none of whom appeared to be talking to each other on a regular basis.  Staffing was a nightmare, with everything sub-sub-contracted out as far as possible to spread the money around.

And money was the thing.  

Money and deadlines.

Thanks to the the Great Recession, by 2010 social service organizations of all kinds had been decimated by massive, muscle-and-bone cuts to at all levels. and it was into that resource-starved environment that this a brand-new $55M grant arrived.


New Money!

And deadlines. No concise objectives or well-defined outcomes, but lots and lots of deadlines each of which came with severe penalties.

So here's a pro tip for you kids out there:  When a project combines 1) no clear plan and no overall leader, 2) a high public profile and 3) lots of drop-dead for the exit as soon as you can plan your escape because
  • The thing is doomed.  Doooomed I say.  And
  • As sure as God made John Wesley Dean III, the first thing that will happen after the Big Project fails due to incompetent management is that management will go looking for scapegoats among the rank-and-file. And when that happens, you would do well to remember the wise words of Amarillo Slim: "If you’re at a poker table and you don’t see a sucker, it’s you.”
The organization that hired me on as a contract/temp had been hemorrhaging middle-managers for years and so when I arrived they literally had no one else to throw at their portion of this mess, so into the thresher I went as a placeholder until they could hire someone on to take up the task permanently.

Unfortunately their internal hiring procedures were so staggeringly complex and awful -- so completely set up to make sure virtually no one ever got hired as a full-timer -- that I ended up getting stuck with the job.  And right out of the gate, what was supposed to be a 3-day orientation to get all the dozens (hundreds?) of people who had been (often involuntarily) committed to the enterprise suddenly ballooned into (as I recall) nearly two months of full-time, all-day...stuff.


Just...stuff.  It appeared that the people running the thing had just pulled random proposals and white papers that had been gather dust on their shelves for years and tossed them into a pile and, bingo, that was the program.  So for two months we had seminars -- many of them very interesting -- on everything anyone could think of.  

After which the organization for which I worked lost its portion of grant because, in that intervening two months, no one had managed to win the Human Resources Hunger Games and actually get hired to do the job for which I had been seat-filling.  For awhile after that happened it was clear I was being suited up by the company to take the hit for losing them their share of the cursed money from this doomed program, but at this point in my life I know enough to cross every "t", dot every "i", and to document the Hell out of everything.

But eventually my contract ran out, and the people who ran the Human Resources Hunger Games explained to me that, despite the fact that everyone I worked at this shop was begging them to hire me (because I happen to be really good at what I do), it was just impossible because, um, er, uh....

This was not the first well-intentioned project designed to help genuinely needy people which I have seen ruined because it's planning and execution were handed over to political friends instead of competent professionals.  

And it probably will not be the last.

You want to know how to corrode people's faith in government to the point where they finally throw up their hands and say "Fuck it!  Just let the private sector run everything!"?  

This is how you do it.


Yastreblyansky said...


bowtiejack said...

"You want to know how to corrode people's faith in government to the point where they finally throw up their hands and say "Fuck it! Just let the private sector run everything!" "

I will be filing this under "Truer Words Never Spoken".

RUKidding said...

Unfortunately many govt depts. - at all levels - seem to be filled with incompetents at the top, who managed to lever themselves up through the ranks over time but clearly lack the skills and ability to do their job well. Peter Principle 101.

I'm seeing it now on a very micro level with a project that's been thrust onto me, but we're trying to thrust it back and get the agency to hire an in-house staff to do the work (clearly needed and not all that expensive but at least creates a job for some prole). The sheer barking insanity of the agency's HR Hunger Games is not worth documenting. We've all seen it before in spades.

I do believe that this will pan out - eventually - with the job created and the right person hired, but the level of incompetency and needless bureaucracy is beyond stupidly appalling. One turns one's head away in disgust.

This is why citizens - often rightfully - rail about govt waste.

That said, don't get me started on the waste one can equally witness in the vaunted private sector. Frankly, it's not that much different, except that the weasels at the top make sure they skim as much as possible, which makes it harder than ever for the lowly serfs to actually get the real work done.

Sorry drifty about losing that job, though. I sit on the outside looking into some local govt depts. and marvel at how poorly they're run... when, in fact, it wouldn't be all that difficult to run them better.

Neo Tuxedo said...

To paraphrase the late Douglas Adams, it is a well-known and much-lamented fact of hierarchical society that those people who most want power and are most-skilled at persuading other people to give it to them are, in general, those least-suited to hold it.

As with most things regarding [leading rationalist Eliezer] Yudkowsky, it is worth recalling that he is an autodidact who was manifestly ill-suited to the American education system. I will admit that I was merely the bright kid who annoyed his teachers a fair amount, but I can still speak with some authority and say that the overwhelmingly characteristic experience of this state of affairs is the experience of being furiously, impotently aware that someone with power over you is massively and fundamentally wrong about something.
-- philosophy major and Blakean magus Philip Sandifer, preview excerpt from the forthcoming Neoreaction a Basilisk

steeve said...

But the private sector sucks just as bad, and every government-hater has experienced it.

Obviously it's good if the government doesn't suck, but the main problem is that people are in the habit of comparing government to perfection instead of to the alternative. That habit needs to end. It still baffles me that, in the Obamacare "debate", people complained about government bureaucrats while private sector bureaucrats have been transparently awful for decades.

banker puppy said...

What's with the fantasy that the private sector knows how to run things? The small business failure rate is eye-popping. And if you wander around the cubicle farms of mid-size or large companies, or talk to the field ops people, they'll tell you stories that will make you shiver.

And, as with the public sector, minor changes often help a lot. Usually won't happen though.

Lawrence said...

It was not always thus. Thomas Franks' The Wrecking Crew gives a horrifying autopsy of how civil service was purposefully destroyed by right wing operators.

Robt said...

There is another choice between what you described and Kansas; Sam Brownback's approach. Or is it, Sam BRokeBack?

I work in the private sector. I do not have much faith in them. That is why they suckle off Tax dollars and Government.

matter fact,
GOP'ers think Government should only be there for corporations and the military.
I am sure your Governor Hedge fund has has the trains running on time, eh?
Can you hear it calling you, "I'll hire the best people and make America great again".
It is the evil sirens song luring you to sail your ship into the rocks.

We used to have watch dogs. Like the Press.
But there is no entertainment value in scrutinizing and backing. Look at our laws on whistleblowers?

I hear ya on the accountability and follow through. Yeah, and the damage it causes.
But riddle me this?

Why is it so devastating for a dem to foul up with funds but Gop'ers seem to escape their failures?

Fritz Strand said...

Having spent my entire career working in huge bureaucratic organizations in and out of government I was always amazed how desperately people hung on to the belief that the HR departments was there for them.

ChicagoPat said...

Jesus, have any of you read this fucking Vox article? I honestly can't get the point of it past "shame on liberals for being right for the last 40 years". The line that made me laugh out loud:

"It is worth considering that Bush is the son of a president, a patrician born in Connecticut and educated at Andover and Harvard and Yale.

It is worth considering that he does not come from a family known for producing poor minds."

What planet do these assholes live on?

ChicagoPat said...

Oops, here's the link:

proverbialleadballoon said...

Or maybe allow a pension situation to get so out of hand that it will eventually break the state. A situation with an easy fix, but that easy fix would mean govt. employees wouldn't be allowed to collect more than one pension, and that's voting against their own interests, so it's not even on the table and instead the teachers are the ones that are supposed to fall on the sword. And the infrastructure rots, the owners hate the jocks..

SamB said...

This is the Republican critique of government programs, going back decades. In the old days, we were misguided. Since Gingrich, we've been mendacious.

DrBB said...

"people complained about government bureaucrats while private sector bureaucrats have been transparently awful for decades."

I keep asking, you who do not want a gummint byoorohkrat in charge of your health care, obviously you have never once had to call your private insurance company.

DrBB said...

Also too, and totally off topic, but Esquire (home of Charlie Pierce's shebeen) has apparently turned off comments--anyone know what's up with that? Drifty? I'm starting to get withdrawal symptoms over here.

trgahan said...

Well, we have a media instructed to emphasize government failure and private sector success. The only thing that would get a reporter fired faster than talking about what the Republican party really is would be talking about who the people sitting in the boardroom upstairs really are.

Also, unlike the public sector, the private sector isn't infested with paid operatives/conned zealots who's job it is to intentionally monkey wretch the whole organization.

Donald Walsh said...

My wife after years at a major package shipping company found herself in the world of small, often 1- to 5- employee shipping companies. She was startled that all these little shops had an owner or owners whose priority was to take long lunches and tax-deductible trips and leave the employees to sink or swim.

Jimbo said...

@DrBb, Yes comments have been turned off at CPP's Shebeen. I don't know why either but I do know that in the last couple of weeks and especially this past week there has been an explosion of bullshit ad posts for working at home and earning millions or other similar crap and it was starting to become a big infestation on the site. To extend the metaphor, Charlie's Shebeen has been overrun by a cockroach invasion. They may have disabled comments to address that somehow but I'm speculating here.