Bureaucracy is *fun*!

I keep telling people how efficient certain parts of the public sector are.  And it’s true.  No matter how much the Sindo would have you believe that every public servant is evil or incompetent or thieving or inefficient or lazy or… well, you get the picture – sometimes, quite often, in fact, we do stuff well.

With reducing resources, in adverse circumstances, and with a concerted campaign to demean and belittle us, and make us guilty for daring to get paid for doing our jobs – really, we do manage to be efficient.  And having friends at all levels of the private sector, I know that we are often more efficient than the private sector.

But not always.

I’d heard about an interesting vacancy advertised on PublicJobs so I go to have a look. Or, well, I try to.

First, I can’t get the site to do anything.  My browser has frozen.  No, wait now. It’s the site. They’ve put up a popup warning me about (SHOCK! HORROR!) the danger of cookies, and how their cookies aren’t really dangerous.  It’s just that the popup blends in so well with the site that you don’t actually notice it.

Close that popup and we hit problem number two – you can do nothing unless you’re logged in.  You can’t even download the application form.  So you have to register with the site so you can log in.

Oh, look – you have to create a Username. Which can’t be your email address.  That’s… quaint.  Security questions?  Yes, the same security questions most sites ask for.  At least they could phrase it differently – “What’s your pornstar name?” so they can get your first pet’s name and mother’s maiden name in one question.

We get there eventually. We get the form downloaded. We get told we need Adobe version 7 (no, we need Adobe reader, there’s a difference) but that’s ok.

Then we find out that to apply for a senior position in the Irish civil/public service you get  exactly the same application form as you would when applying for the most junior post.

“Give below, in date order (starting with your current employer), full particulars of all employment (including any periods of unemployment) between the date of leaving school or college and the present date. No period between these dates should be unaccounted for.”

For real?  I’m applying for a fairly senior post.  You make it clear people need relevant experience.  You’re not getting people fresh out of college here.  But you want to know everything they’ve done since they left secondary school or college?

In my case, that’s well over twenty years.  I do not see how filling out boxes about a FÁS course I did in the 1980s, some months I spent unemployed back then, or a couple of years spent working in a clothes shop can be of any benefit to you or to me.  In fact, even finding the relevant dates will be a pain in the ass – and will involve me taking up the valuable time of other public servants as I try to find this information during working hours. “Hello – I was unemployed twenty-something years ago for a couple of months – if I give you my PPS number, can you get me the dates?  And would there be anything about a FÁS course on there too?  Thanks, I’ll hold…”

Private sector people – middle-to-senior management job.  You’d be looking at what, last ten years only?  Add in other, older stuff if it directly supports the application?

The sad thing is this is pretty much exactly the same application form they were using five or six years ago,. the last time I filled one of these out.  So in six years, there’s been not one person in the Public Appointments Service who has said “You know, this is bullshit.  At this level, the interview boards always skip the early stuff  – let’s save everyone’s time and resources and just ask…”

Mind you, last time, I thought to myself “I’m scanning this, just in case…” and had a hard drive crash.  So yeah, there is a benefit to bureaucracy, and doing things in triplicate…

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#1 in an occasional series

To read the Sunday Independent or listen to Leo Varadkar or James Reilly, you’d be forgiven for believing that everyone in the public sector was either lazy, incompetent, inefficient, dishonest, malingering, thieving or some combination of all of the above.

Except, of course, for the people appointed by the likes of, well, Leo and James, who totally deserve their cap-breaching salaries.  You pay peanuts, you get monkeys, after all. Overspend by €200 million in the HSE this year to date, though, and obviously that’s not the fault of senior management – we should cut pay and allowances instead.  It’s crazy in this day and age paying someone an “unsocial hours” allowance… they can, of course, still get public transport and find a free childcare place for their offspring, when they’re scheduled for the nightshift…

But I digress.

The main point of this post is supposed to be about how “woeful” the public service is, compared to how amazing the private sector is, and wouldn’t everything be great if only the public sector was more like the private…

Except…

Case for consideration #1 in an occasional series.

I want to buy a piece of equipment.  It must be able to a certain job, in a certain way, and in a certain time.  I set out the requirements for this piece of equipment very clearly.  I go to three different private sector companies.

Company A comes back proposing Solution A, at medium price.
Company B comes back proposing Solution B, at cheapest price.  And adds on what I would call an outrageous price to install Solution B.  However, they’re still cheaper than Company A.
Company C also proposes Solution B.  They also charge an outrageous price to install – in this case, making them almost double the price of Company B.  The total price is so unrealistic that they’ve priced themselves out of the market – but spent money doing so, because their proposal was a few hours’ work, at least, rather than if they felt so uninclined to do business, just telling us that.

So, unsurprisingly, we go with Company B.  We place an order in late May.  By mid-June, we have not had the solution delivered, and nor have we heard anything about delivery dates.  So we phone them.  They tell us that they just need written confirmation from the manufacturer that Solution B can do what we want.  Wait a second – didn’t you just write to us a couple of weeks ago, saying “This can do what you want!”?

Another couple of weeks pass.  We get in touch again.  We apparently won’t be able to get Solution B now for another 5 to 6 weeks, by which time it will be able to do what we were told it would be able to do, back in May.

Company B have essentially lied to us.  Or, at best, they have been economical with the truth, or incompetent.  Company C, likewise.  Company A – well, what they’re selling is too expensive compared to Company B to justify telling Company B to go take a hike.  Assuming we do actually get the solution delivered in August, and that it does what we were told it says on the tin.

What’s really annoying about this is that Company B could have said from the outset that they were proposing a solution that wouldn’t be available straight away.  They knew our circumstances, and we didn’t specify “Must be installed immediately!”  But – y’know, not being told there’d be a delay, we scheduled other stuff around this…

So yeah.  Moral of the story – the private sector is not the all-singing, all-dancing wonder child it’s made out to be. Sometimes it’s just as lazy, incompetent, inefficient, dishonest, malingering, thieving or some combination of all of the above as the public sector…