Our Cutting-Edge Government

On Saturday the Washington Post published a stunning news article — one of those pieces that make you shake your head in wonder and disgust.

The story, by reporter David Fahrenthold, is about how the Office of Personnel Management — the main agency charged with human resources function for federal employees — processes the retirement paperwork of those federal employees. And “paperwork” is apt, because even though it is March 2014, the process is done almost entirely by hand and almost entirely on paper. Imagine! And to make it even weirder, it all happens underground, in a remote abandoned mine in Pennsylvania that received paper forms by the truckload and is filled with filing cabinets. That’s right — filing cabinets.

Using its antiquated process, it takes 61 days for the Office of Personnel Management to complete the retirement process. By contrast it takes Texas two days.

Does any large private company still process personnel actions on paper and by hand? Do any still maintain filing cabinets of sensitive personnel documents?

No wonder these guys botched the job of designing a functioning website!

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Rand Paul At Berkeley

Last week Senator Rand Paul, a Republican Senator from Kentucky, gave a speech at the University of California at Berkeley. Paul spoke about the abuses of the U.S. intelligence community, and his remarks apparently were well-received by his youthful audience.

Some people were struck by the fact that Paul, a conservative whose political inclinations have a distinct Libertarian flavor, would give a speech on a campus that has long been regarded as one of the nation’s most liberal, Democratic enclaves. In this case, he was addressing a topic — personal privacy, and domestic surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities that often seem to be unsupervised and uncontrolled — on which he was likely to find sympathetic ears. On some issues, the American political spectrum seems to be less a straight line than a circle, where the interests of the left and the right can meet. The concern about the growing intrusions of our spy agencies seem to be one of those issues.

Paul said that he also thought it would be useful to speak at places where Republicans don’t often go. I disagree with a huge array of his political positions, but I agree with him on that basic concept. One of the polarizing influences in modern America is the fact that people tend to speak to, listen to, read, and follow only opinions that they already agree with, and often those opinions are strident and demonize people who hold opposing viewpoints. It takes an effort to try to understand what those opposing viewpoints are and why others have adopted them — but often if you make that effort, you come away with a better appreciation of competing views and ideas about potential points of agreement. And, when a speaker is talking to an audience of skeptics, he or she is more likely to skip the cheap, home audience applause lines and instead try to really explain the rationale for their position. Both sides to the communication are likely to benefit as a result.

I wish more of our politicians would seek opportunities to talk to those who hold opposing views, and I wish more people were willing to listen to different perspectives. Free speech can only have an impact if people listen to it. I commend Senator Paul and the Berkeley students who came to hear him.