System Failure vs. Government Stupidity

“If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.”
– Plato

One of the things that has always amazed me is how consistently Oregon’s liberal/progressive political class thinks that only they have the answers. You may remember that Portland decided to implement a new billing system for its sewer and water services. There were any number of programs out there on the market that had been tested and proven reliable but the Portland mayor and city council decided they had a “better way” – one that would become the model for all other cities. The conceit inherent in that attitude is mind boggling – but conceit is the mother’s milk of Oregon’s liberal/progressive political class. In short order, the system not only failed but it erased all of the user data making it impossible to determine usage by customers. Millions were lost in revenue and more millions were spent repairing a system that was destined for failure from the beginning. It did succeed in one regard – it became a national model for ineptitude and may well have been the genesis for the new term “ineptocracy.”*

And then there is former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s famous roll out of Cover Oregon – Oregon’s program for “online” registration for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Mr. Kitzhaber’s liberal/progressive elites shunned the use of the federal website and those of other states that had been successfully implemented because the elites had a “better way” – a way that would become a model for the whole nation. Poppycock. After over $300 Million spent and at least four years of excuses, Oregon’s liberal/progressives halted the program and closed the website. Meantime, not a single person was able to register for Obamacare online. A friend of mine participated in one of the panels that was supposed to provide advice to the bureaucrats charged with implementing the system. Much of that advice fell on deaf ears because – well, you know – they knew a better way. One of the biggest pitfalls is that the system was being developed in silos (for those of you forced to endure a teachers union led education in the Portland public schools, that means that each part worked without reference to the other parts) and while some of the silos worked well in isolation, they collapsed when joined with other silos. But it was ineptocracy more than anything that caused the failure.

A recent article in OregonCatalyst noted that Governor Kate Brown (D-OR) has overseen four system failures in her tenure as governor. While there is no doubt that the failures occurred and that the results were catastrophic, I’m not sure that “stupid” qualifies as a “system failure”.

Let me give you a very personal example that I waded through for almost nine months. In the Spring of 2020 with the China virus pandemic closing in and the country shutting down, we decided to purchase a motorhome to use in lieu of airplane travel. It turned out to be a really good investment despite all that occurred in its aftermath. On May 16 we purchased the vehicle in Las Vegas, NV, and set off from there for our summer home in Bend, Oregon. Three days later we arrived and learned that Oregon state government had closed all of the Motor Vehicle Department offices. All title transfers, licensing and registration would be handled at a centralized location in Salem – there are at least sixty MVD offices for the thirty-six counties of Oregon. They didn’t really close them; they just shut the doors to the public. I was informed that I had to begin the process by getting my Vehicle Identification Number certified and that that could only be done at the local MVD office. I had to go online for an appointment at the Bend office and that took almost two weeks. I went to the MVD office and was greeted outside by an agent who was dutifully masked and guarded by a sheriff’s deputy. He was very efficient in doing the inspection and in short order I was handed a slip and admitted to the inner chambers. Much to my surprise the work stations were virtually full although they were limiting the public to one person at a time. You see they didn’t close the offices and furlough the employees – we don’t do that to public employees – they simply barred the public.

A clerk gave me the VIN inspection certificate and wrote down the amount I would owe when I sent in my application. And here was my second surprise. Despite being told that the title transfer, registration and licensing would be done online it was not. You went online, printed out the forms filled them out manually and mailed them (snail mail) to MVD in Salem. No internet, no FAXing, no scanning and emailing, no personal delivery. Every application disappeared into that great hole at 1905 Lana Lane, Salem, Oregon. And it was at that time that I was told there was a backlog and that they would not process my application for six weeks. That was June 12, 2020.

After the six weeks, they sent the whole application back because their agent had given me the wrong amount. I promptly sent it all back with the new amount about the end of July, 2020. (Turns out that they gave me the wrong amount again because three days after I resent the application I got a letter telling me yet a different amount and so I sent that also but when I called about it I was told that there was no way that they could hold the application for the second check or retrieve the application from the stack in order to flag it – not until the end of the “normal processing time”– now ten weeks.

Now we are into October and they sent it all back again – this time with a detailed explanation of the fees. I sent it back a third time and was told that the processing delay was now up to fourteen weeks. But a week later I got a letter asking if I had included information on a new requirement. Now I had to wait until they rejected it again and start over with the new requirement included. Each time you corrected their mistake the whole file went to the bottom of the stack. Each time I called them I got a different agent and each time the processing delay got longer. By the first of February it was extended to seventeen weeks.

Now when I say that the application went to the bottom of the stack I mean precisely that. There was no automation, no scanning for the computer, no tracking, no nothing. You filed and you waited. It sat on a table or in a bin and as an agent finished whatever he had on his desk he would go to the stack and take whatever was on the top. One agent told me there was already a backlog of 30,000 applications with the amount growing weekly. It was the most backward, ill-advised and customer-be-damned system I had encountered.

Seventeen weeks – over four months for a transaction that would take about one-half hour if they had left the local offices open to the public. And how do I know that? Because, between October of 2020 and February of 2021 I transferred title, registered and obtained license plates for two cars in Arizona. One took me one-half hour and the other took about an hour because I had to drive to the Vehicle Emission Control site for testing before going to the registration office.

Eventually I got fed up and went to the Highway Director’s office where I finally found someone who would help. The Director’s assistant put me on to a supervisor – Benita Wells – who cleared out the deadwood in an afternoon and resolved the delay in a day. Yes, they could have found my file at anytime if they looked but they would not. Yes, there are quality public employees who actually care about the public and they should be recognized when they do a great job. (I am somewhat wary of identifying Ms. Wells for the great job she did for fear it will cause her retribution by those responsible for the original ineptness.)

All told, the entire process took nine months – nine months, I could have given birth in that time. (The original draft of this portion of the article went on for two and one-half pages – it was more of an exorcism than an informative sharing. So I shortened it to what you see.)

The point here is that the whole exercise in shutting the MVD offices and centralizing the functions for titles, registration and license plates was stupid. If it wasn’t stupid on day one, it was most certainly stupid by day sixty. And it is even more stupid on Monday, April 5, 2021, when I called MVD and found that nothing had changed and the wait time for processing was still at least seventeen weeks.

I don’t know which ineptocrat was responsible for making the original decision to shut the doors to the local MVD offices, or to centralize the title transfer, registration, and licensing to Salem but the ineptitude of the process cannot have gone unnoticed by Ms. Brown or the senior members of her administration and the fact that they have allowed it to continue without a care in the world about the public that depends on them, makes them as guilty of ineptness as the original decision maker. Look, a couple of sheets of Plexiglas, a monitoring system of physical admissions to ensure social distancing at the local MVD offices, and a requirement for masks by workers and the public would have cured this problem at the beginning and, if not then, at least shortly thereafter when the disaster caused by their first decision to shut the doors was patently apparent.

A system failure usually relates to some mechanical or electronic failure, or overload, or even a breach. They happen but they still remain rare. Stupid, however, is a human failure. Repeated stupid is a human failure of those who refuse to see their mistakes. And a lifetime of stupid qualifies you to be governor of any West Coast state or even President and Vice-president of the United States of America.

* Ineptocracy(in-ep-toc’-ra-cy) : a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers. (This is a definition that is circulating on the internet without attribution and it doesn’t really need one because of its absolute clarity.)