Friday, January 31, 2014

Dealing with Government Bureaucracy

Yesterday, I replaced my old car. A friend of mine had purchased a new car a couple of years ago, but kept his old car as a spare because the dealer had offered him a mere $500 for a trade-in deal- the car is a stick shift, which to a dealer knocks off about a grand in value. This week, he offered it to me for the self-same $500 that the dealer had offered him two years ago. If he had kept the car, he would have been saddled with almost $500 in registration and insurance fees. All told, it was a win-win situation for both of us.

I had to register the car with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. I had contacted my insurance carrier to switch the insurance over as soon as my friend signed the title over to me. I hopped on the Number 4 Bus (PDF) at the corner of McLean and Central Avenues and took it to Getty Square in downtown Yonkers. I had to pop into the Riverfront Library to print my insurance card from the PDF that my carrier had e-mailed to me. I then popped into the DMV office next door...

I spent less than half an hour at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Of course, I had filled out my paperwork before even leaving the house, but seriously, I wasn't expecting to breeze through the DMV in the time I did. The first thing everybody does when they enter the building is to head to a "gatekeeper" who assigns numbers to the clients. A very pleasant man gave me my ticket, and about five minutes later, I met with an absolutely lovely woman who cheerfully and courteously assisted me in registering my motor vehicle. All told, the transaction took about ten to fifteen minutes.

After bidding adieu to the helpful clerk, I headed across Larkin Plaza to Maggie's Seafood Spot, where I ordered a sandwich of three beautiful, perfectly fried flounder filets (I originally wanted whiting, but Maggie, a jovial Korean woman with the gift of the gab, managed to "upsell", and I got the buck-fifty more expensive flounder). I ate my sandwich on the way to the Yonkers train station, where I caught the 25 Bus (PDF) home. Because I spent such a short time taking care of these various errands, I got a free bus transfer for the ride home.

A lot of people, especially "small government" idiots, like to badmouth public employees in general and DMV clerks in particular. I have to stick up for the public employees with whom I dealt throughout the course of my errands yesterday- the two public transit workers, the library staff, and the DMV clerks. All were dedicated, professionals, all performed their duties with pride and care. I have come to the conclusion that the anti-public employee narrative is largely rooted in racial animosity. The government has, for decades, had to comply with anti-discrimination standards more stringent than those faced by private sector employers. The civil service has long provided minorities with a path to middle-class status that was denied to them by industry. Now that private employers have been outdoing each other in the race to the bottom, those public jobs look much better in comparison to private sector jobs, and the aggrieved underemployed seem more interested in dragging public workers down with them than in building up private sector unions. For the record, all of the public employees I dealt with yesterday were minorities, half of them were women, and every single one of them provided stellar service. Dealing with government bureaucracy was a pleasure!


mikey said...

All true, but the stereotype of the angry, unhelpful and uncaring government worker didn't originate out of whole cloth, and the DMV (along with the Post Office) is almost certainly Sui Generis.

It provides no actual justification for demands for small government - government has a role in society, particularly in every place where the market can't or won't work because the incentives are wrong - but that doesn't mean that local government bureaucracies aren't regularly staffed by people who are not interested in doing an excellent job or providing a valuable service, but instead are disinterested, surly and unpleasant.

Sure, it ain't all of them, and you can certainly meet some fine people in public and civil service jobs, but the chances of meeting one of the bad eggs is significantly higher than in private employment, precisely because it's so difficult to discipline/fire people in public services...

Glennis said...

But, indeed, mikey, the agencies responded to the stereotypes by emphasizing better customer service, and improving it.

I'm a low level government bureaucrat myself now that I've changed jobs. There's a high expectation for us to serve the public well and pleasantly, despite the fact that we have to enforce some somewhat maddening and ridiculous laws - at least, that's what I have to do.