General Question

GloPro's avatar

Do you find government agencies to be inefficient?

Asked by GloPro (8248 points ) May 28th, 2014 from iPhone

Why are government agencies allowed to be run and operated so inefficiently?

I’m talking about the DMV, the Social Security Office, the Unemployment Office, and the like. If you must interact with one of these agencies you’d better take the day off and prepare to stand in very long lines to have very inefficient conversations and hopefully get some sort of resolution.

If it were a privately owned and run operation then there is no way it could operate in such poor manner. Why is the government allowed to run a shitty operation because we are all forced to deal with them?

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42 Answers

SQUEEKY2's avatar

Unlimited funding and no accountability for the way it’s used,so there is no incentive to even try and be efficient.

basstrom188's avatar

No worse than some banks and insurance companies

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

They don’t have to turn a profit and they are the only way to get certain things done, you go through them, or you don’t get what you are after.

flip86's avatar

They are not innefficient at all. They serve their purpose. Have you ever seen the amount of people that go into the DMV or the SSI office? What do you expect? Personalized service catered specifically to your needs? These offices do their best for what they have to deal with. Is it ideal? No. But I really don’t see how it could be any different.

bolwerk's avatar

Define efficiency, first of all. Private companies are pretty efficient at profit-maximization. They aren’t particularly efficient at process-maximization.

Government agencies? Eh. They usually do things well until a wrench is thrown into their procedures. They are so authoritarian that deviation is something most government employees are afraid of without a supervisor giving them explicit permission to deviate.

stanleybmanly's avatar

You answered the question yourself. They can treat you the way they do because “we are all forced to deal with them” It’s the immortal complaint about bureaucracies everywhere. And it isn’t just the government. From the interminable lines in your bank, to the nightmare of bullshit shoveled at you by your insurance company, there’s no escape. Actually, the Social Security administration is considered to be one of the best bureaucratic models since the days of the third Reich. Interesting how no one tops the Germans when it comes to cold ruthless efficiency.

GloPro's avatar

@basstrom188 @flip86 Yes, I expect personalized, efficient and friendly service. You said no worse than some banks or insurance companies. Well, everyone at the banks I have worked with look professional in suits and skirts/blazers. I never have an issue getting my bank or insurance company on the phone or by email. I might be on hold for a bit, but at least I can contact them and deal with one person I know by name over the course of days until my issue is resolved.

The California Unemployment office does not take phone calls past 12:30 and you cannot email them at all. The post office phone number in the phone book and online for my town (there are 5 branches), is disconnected. There is no way for the public to contact the post office any other way but in person. I’m sure there is a phone… The number just is not available to the public.

I could list a ton of other small business shortcomings that I do not see in privately owned and operated businesses of similar caliber. I believe @Hypocrisy_Central nailed it in that we have no choice but to use these agencies or incur fines or worse. There is no incentive for them to give a shit. By law I am forced to patronize them and give them my money. With other businesses, like banks, I can choose another company and therefore there is incentive to somewhat impress me and ask for my business.

Coloma's avatar

OMG! I am dealing with the state controllers office right now, and have been for a freaking YEAR, trying to claim some unclaimed assets that are being held from a deceased family members estate of which I was a beneficiary back in 2004. It is a complicated situation as there are many properties listed with the original estate attys. as well as some named privately.
The woman I have been dealing with is the densest, most unintelligent person ever!

She will ask me questions that have all been provided in the documentation I have provided, right under her nose!
I finally had it with her a few months ago when she told me she was sending, yet another “table” for me to complete.
When she said this I responded back with ” A table?, Well as long as you’re at it send a wall too, so I can beat my head against it.” lol
So. Fucking. INCOMPETENT!

jca's avatar

@SQUEEKY2: “Unlimited funding?” I don’t know what government agencies you have learned about recently, but all the government agencies that I know of (and I work for the government so I know of a lot and I speak to a lot of government workers from many agencies) have experienced layoffs and funding cuts recently. Many, if not all, are cut to the bone.

As far as going to agencies like DMV, now you can do many of these things online or by mail. Last time I waited till the last minute and had to actually go to the DMV, I was mad at myself for letting that happen. I considered it my fault for waiting till the last minute and next time I’ll be sure to remember to do things timely.

jca's avatar

@Coloma: You should tell the woman you are writing to the Director of her agency and then do so. You will see how quickly things turn around in your favor.

Coloma's avatar

@jca I’m having another family member and the estate attys. handle it now. 15 months of nonsense, I’m done. haha

GloPro's avatar

My neighbor had $4000 taken out of her checking account by the social security agency 9 months ago. She proved it was an error on their part over 6 months ago. She still has not been given her money back. Every time she calls they tell her it will be in her account in about 45 days. 6 months later she is still documenting every phone call and getting nowhere, even though they all tell her they see that it was an error on their part.

flip86's avatar

@GloPro Name a single buisness and there will be a dissatisfied customer with a legitamte complaint. Government angencies deal with the needs of the entire population. Of course there will be hiccups. For the most part, these angencies do what they are there to do.

flip86's avatar

^^agencies

flutherother's avatar

I don’t think they are inefficient so much as underfunded and understaffed.

JLeslie's avatar

Depends. I have examples of both.

In FL the two counties I primarily have lived in the DMV was great. Whenever we have called for information we have spoken with helpful people who answered all of our questions. Both counties you can make an appointment so your wait time is very short. Both counties I have called about various building permits, in one I applied for a permit, and both everyone was very helpful and the permit process was smooth and efficient. I had a voter’s registration snafu in one and when I called they were again helpful and corrected the problem.

When I lived in TN the DMV was ridiculous. They tell you to get there before 9:am and line up and expect to be there for at least three hours. I want to point out in terms of population both the FL counties and the TN county had similar population density, it isn’t like one is out in the country and the other in an urban setting. I didn’t listen to the ridiculousness and showed up at 1:pm and only waited about 45 minutes. However, my local town government was very good in TN when a lightening bolt during a very bad storm hit a tree at the front of my property and the limbs that fell blocked my driveway and the road. We called and within 30 minutes someone came, cut the limb into pieces and cleared it all away. They even did what was on our property, which technically they didn’t have to.

I have called social security more than once to help my inlaws. My experience has been a positive one. I also have called INS/ICE more than once regarding my inlaws and they were always helpful, but sometimes it was a little frustrating if they were unable to answer certain questions. The one thing I will mention about the federal agencies is it can be difficult to figure out how to get through to speak to a person, which can be frustrating! I’ve learned to not touch any buttons and just wait, and the wait usually is a little long. Usually over ten minutes for sure. When my FIL has gone into social security for help they have always been very helpful.

I have called NIH for information and they were very helpful.

Darth_Algar's avatar

The OP has apparently never called a company’s customer support number only to get bounced around to half a dozen different people speaking very broken English (all amusingly going by the name of “Steve” or “Gary” or “Tom”), never getting any kind of answer beyond “one moment while I transfer you”, and finally, without warning, getting disconnected while waiting on hold for someone who supposedly can help.

jca's avatar

@Coloma: It’s unfortunate you have to pay attorneys to do this. I’m sure if you just called the Manager of the department or written a letter to the highest up of the place, you could have accomplished similar results.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My first reaction was Yes, but…you know, I don’t know if they’re more so than any other company who wants to hire just the amount of people they think they need, and no more. I mean, do you have any better service in for-profit sector? When was the last time you called AT&T, or your cell phone provider? Or…shopped at Walmart?
As an aside, Walmart now has self-check out lanes. Yay. But last time I was there half of them were out of service….

GloPro's avatar

@Darth_Algar Sure I have. With AT&T. I left them and chose another phone company. And with Saint Mary’s Insurance. Same poor service and lack of attention, and I dropped them, too.
The companies that have treated me well, as in my bank, my cable company, and my car insurance company, are all still getting my business and my money.

I cannot say I have ever experienced anything more than a frustrating interaction with any government agency. Period. Not the IRS, Unemployment, DMV, Social Securities office, or the Obamacare transition folks. Again, half of the time you cannot even track down the number for the office you need, and then they stop answering the phones at 12:30. The message even tells you they stop phones at 12:30. Some of them jerk you from one automated voice to another, until you get a message that all operators are busy and to try again later. There isn’t even an option to sit on hold for an hour. The phone just disconnects. So frustrating.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@GloPro

So than you acknowledge that privately owned and run operation can and do operate in such a poor manner?

GloPro's avatar

Of course. Duh. And many of those companies fail. The government agencies are not allowed to fail but are allowed to suck.

My point is that poor business operation seems to be standard and accepted as how it is when it comes to a government agency. I find it quite sad that the operations agencies for our nation are allowed to be so pathetic when many companies that are privately owned have figured out how to be profitable, efficient and professional. It’s shameful to see such a poor standard is accepted because the people are forced to do business by law.

Only operating a phone line for California Unemployment for 4 hours a day, 20 hours a week, is bullshit. Do you accept that as a reasonable expectation?

Darth_Algar's avatar

@GloPro

Where did I say anything about reasonable or not? I simply dispute the notion that private business is any more efficient.

GloPro's avatar

If a private business is not efficient it will ultimately fail. Unless the government bails it out, that is. Yet another way the government allows inefficiency.

ragingloli's avatar

is not at&t the biggest phone company in the colonies? talk about unsuccessful

Darth_Algar's avatar

That must be why UPS and FedEx remain in business while competing with the considerably more efficient United States Postal Service. Private business only cares about efficiency so long as that efficiency helps increase profit. More often than not profitable efficiency for the business comes at the expense of efficiency for the customer.

As for your California unemployment phone line example I would hope for a bit more detail and context. What kind of budget situation are they faced with? Have they had to cut back employees and hours in order to meet with diminishing operating budgets?

josie's avatar

Because taxpayers don’t seem to give a shit.

GloPro's avatar

The USPS is not nearly as efficient as UPS and Fed-Ex, in my opinion. I can generally send things cheaper thru them than USPS, and it takes less time to get there for the same value.

Government budget cuts don’t matter a bit to me as long as they continue to spend $72 billion in improper, unregulated and erroneous billing per year. They need to get their shit together. The link is actually 50 ways the government leaks money. Billions upon billions a year in wildly unnecessary funding.

ragingloli's avatar

like the annual 700 billion(and rising) for the war machinery

Darth_Algar's avatar

In my experience the USPS might be a little bit slower (a day or so, at most), but I don’t have to go door-to-door around my neighborhood asking if anyone received a package addressed to me. For some reason neither FedEx nor UPS can ever manage to get a package to my door (despite living in a typical square block neighborhood on one of the primary streets in my town). I never have that issue with the US Postal Service.

Also compare FedEx and UPS’s performance over this past holiday season to the USPS.

Budget cuts don’t matter? What do you think happens to services when operating budgets are slashed? (Note: this applies to private and public sector equally.)

GloPro's avatar

@Darth_Algar I didn’t mean they don’t matter. What I meant was budget cuts are not an excuse for poor business performance when the government doesn’t bother to monitor things like a $900,000 shipping charge for washers being shipped state-to-state. See above link for source. With money being thrown right and left I really don’t want to hear the reason jobs get cut and efficiency drops is because they don’t have the money to take care of things that are important to the people.

The USPS had a dinner in which each person ate/drank around $170. One business dinner was $13,500. On my dime. And then they raise the stamp cost because they need more money. See above link.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@GloPro

And those washers have what, exactly, to do with the state of California’s unemployment phone line?

The USPS actually turns a healthy profit. The reason they need to raise the cost of postage stamps is because Republicans in Congress, under George W. Bush, in an effort to poison the USPS, passed a bill requiring the USPS to pre-fund 75 years of healthcare and benefits in a decade. That one business dinner did not effect the price of postage stamps.

GloPro's avatar

The billing for the washers definitely has a trickle down effect on all budgets. My OP was not specifically about California’s Unemployment Office, but about the inefficiency of government agencies in general. If the excuse for poor performance is lack of funds then how can blatant mismanagement and wasteful spending NOT be considered?

JLeslie's avatar

I meant to add, I called social security to make an appointment for my FIL. I am pretty sure they took him on time. He said everything went well. So, if you prefer to wait on hold at home and make an appointment so you waste less time at the SS office that mig be an option, unless things have changed. I did it for my FIL a couple of years ago.

As far as USPS I love the United States Postal Service. Some of the people who work there could be better, it’s true, but overall I get good service around the country and going into my little local post office when I lived in TN was something I looked forward to. They recognized me and were always helpful. My current post office is a larger, busier one, but I still have had good service. Postage is still reasonable. How much is it now? 48¢? To mail a letter 3,000 miles across country and it gets there in 4 days? I can’t complain.

jca's avatar

@GloPro: That report you linked was from the Heritage Foundation, a Conservative think tank. I suspect anything they would put out would be slanted.

gailcalled's avatar

2014 first class mail rates for one ounce is $0.49 (unless metered where it is $0.48).

JLeslie's avatar

@gailcalled That makes sense. The last envelope I saw that had a “stamp” with a price was metered. I am never up to date with how much sending a letter costs. I just use those forever stamps and buy a sheet every 3 months or so.

Crazydawg's avatar

It’s a union thing. Gov employees are Teflon, you can’t touch them or discipline them because of the union protections. 52 days a year off with paid vacation, sick leave and paid holidays off. Total BS!

jca's avatar

@Crazydawg: Instead of others being jealous of what union members have, others should strive to get the same benefits in the companies they work for. Paid sick time, vacation time, holidays, pensions – aren’t they things that would benefit all workers and society in general? Isn’t it better for the economy for people to not lose money if they’re out sick, for people to be able to take vacations, travel, have paid holidays? Does that not benefit everyone? When I travel, do I not benefit the hotel industry, the restaurant industry, the automobile industry (indirectly by putting wear and tear on my car), the tourism industry?

Crazydawg's avatar

@jca 52 days off plus legacy costs of the unions puts anything a government employee can produce at a huge disadvantage both with regards to productivity and cost of goods produced and sold. It would never fly in the private sector. Said business would be out of business in a blink of an eye. Can you honestly say you ever had a great experience getting a drivers license or plates for your car at the DMV? I do wish pigs could fly and everyone gets paid 6 figures but ain’t gonna happen no matter how much you wish it and the Chinese will make sure of this reality. Time to wake up!

Darth_Algar's avatar

52 days off a year? One day off out of every week? Lazy bastards!

Darth_Algar's avatar

@GloPro

Wasteful spending is a separate issue from the question of service and efficiency. But yes, budget cuts backs do matter. That is not an excuse, it’s a simple truth. You mentioned the unemployment office only answering phones for 4 hours a day. Now why is that? I’m honestly curious about the reason, but I’d be willing to bet it’s because of budgetary reasons. It’s funny how everyone wants these agencies to provide prompt, first class service, but they don’t want to allow these agencies the funding to do that. Give an agency or company enough money to hire a person to work 4 hours a day and they can only hire that person for 4 hours a day. No more. You certainly can’t expect the person to work 8 hours for 4 hours worth of pay. Government agencies across the board, at federal, state and local levels are facing budget woes and employee cutbacks, and people still bitch because of the service they get. Americans need to figure out if we want cheap or we want quality.

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