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Civil Servants at Work

1:08 PM, May 29, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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One of the more intriguing aspects of the VA health care scandal is the way the paperwork was creatively done to make it appear that the system was operating as it was meant to.  This took serious, sustained effort, as the AP reports:

Fake appointments, unofficial logs kept on the sly and appointments made without telling the patient ... among tricks used to disguise delays in seeing and treating veterans at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics.

But weren’t the people doing this worried that their deceptions and subterfuge might be discovered?  Evidently not. At the conclusion (more than two years ago) of an internal investigation (seem to be a lot of those going on these days) a:

… nine-page memo ordered the practices stopped and instructed managers on how to detect them. 

And concluded on this note:

“Please be cautioned … additional new or modified gaming strategies may have emerged, so do not consider this list a full description of all current possibilities of … practices that need to be addressed.”

Or as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., put it ... “As soon as new directives are put out, they’re torn apart to find out how to get around the requirements.”

So, if they were caught cooking the books, the public servants at the VA were neither shamed not frightened. Merely inconvenienced. And they soldiered on.

What to do, then, after all those investigations are done? We hear talk, now, of “punishment.” And perhaps one or two people will be fired.  Maybe fined.  Possibly even jailed. But not enough of them to shake up the system.

Government employees will continue to do as they have always done, secure behind the walls of a civil service system, which Washington is disinclined to take on even when it recognizes the problem.

As the Washington Post, in one of those editorials to nowhere puts it:

We don’t have a Shinseki problem … We have a President Obama problem. We have a Congress problem. We have a civil service system “in crisis,” 

Some of the resistance to change is political: Democrats rely on government unions that are suspicious of merit-based policies, and Republicans are suspicious of government altogether. 

It isn’t exactly clear how being “suspicious of government altogether” is such a bad thing, given the evidence of the VA’s phony bookkeeping. But it doesn’t really matter because the Post, like the rest of Washington, doesn’t really expect anything to change. This, too, shall pass.

And, anyway, even though parts of the government may be broken, the Department of Pointless Investigations is doing excellent work and it is all over the VA case.

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