Sunday, 1 February 2009

Spending the stimulus

Giving stimulus money to the public service in order to "improve services" is like giving a 10 year old kid a 20 dollar note at the pool and telling him to get something to eat. I did that last week and found out the hard way that I need to make my instructions crystal clear when dealing with kids of that age. Instead of him buying just one thing that he wanted - like an ice cream - he took the handing over of $20 as instructions to spend the lot, even if he ended up buying an armful of stuff he didn't want.

The fabulous photos from the 2008 Contractors Awards illustrate one way our tax dollars will be spent. I have seen results similar to this in my career in the public service. If a new and imaginative way can be spent to piss away money with no result, or even a negative result, then you can be sure that at least one public servant will indeed do it that way. (Via Margo of course).

I will tell you about two nasty little wastes of money that I saw close up, and utterly failed to do anything about (not for a want of trying though).

We had a waste of space manager in our section that I called Fuckwit (for obvious reasons). The guy put the "t" into "tool". He looked after some of our hardware, and every year, he got to spend a small pile of money on replacing some of it.

There are several facets to hierarchy in the state sector. Some pubes, when out on the piss, will only talk to other pubes at or around their pay grade. The first thing they ask at a bar is "what are you?", meaning what is your pay grade. An SO9 will not deign to talk to a lowly SO2 for instance.

Another facet is the size of your spend (or budget). The more money you spend, the greater the size of your penis. Fuckwit loved to go to conferences and tell all and sundry (mainly other government employees) how much he was spending that year (with an obvious inflation figure, usually around 100%, thanks to his fuckwitery). He embigened himself with his budget. Which is why he fought tooth and nail against all efficiency measures, because they had the potential to reduce his budget. If a new thing came out that would cut his costs by 50%, he'd find a way to waste the other 50% of his budget so that it wouldn't be cut the following year.

I'm serious. As a taxpayer, this behaviour used to drive me crackers.

One year, he managed to convince our boss that he urgently needed to replace a pile of oldish, but serviceable stuff with new, shiny stuff. Our boss agreed that the need was urgent, and the paperwork to spend $600,000 was rapidly pushed through. The paperwork made numerous statements and claims that a great deal of money would be saved in future years by spending this $600,000.

We weren't really spending $600,000 that year, as we were leasing the stuff over 3 years. But that meant paying a rapacious bank $200,000 per year, and then handing the gear back in pristine condition after 36 months - for if not, penalties started to kick in.

Three weeks later, a pile of stuff arrived. There was so much of it, it caused a health and safety hazard in our offices. Somehow I ended up with the job of moving Fuckwit's stuff to its eventual home in another part of town.

So I moved it down town, and there it sat for 12 months, gathering dust. Every week, he'd be asked at our management meeting when work would start on replacing the old with the new, and when we could expect to see savings. Every week, we'd be told to expect progress next week. But nothing ever happened.

Our boss, who was a very nice guy (way too nice if you ask me) eventually blew a gasket and told me to get the stuff installed, and to turf the old stuff (which is what he had promised to do when submitting the paperwork). Fuckwit acquiesced, and then immediately started white-anting me behind my back. But that was normal, and I could handle that. It's how he always operated, and everyone eventually learned to ignore it.

So I recruited a few guys, got the gear installed and then started a crash program to get rid of the old stuff. I'll blow my own trumpet here by saying I worked 14 hours or more per day, 7 days a week, for 7 weeks without a break in order to get that done. When I was finished, I was pretty happy with the result. The new stuff was doing the job of the old stuff, and I could rip the old stuff out and flog it for a few dollars.

Fuckwit had spent those 7 weeks touring our operating divisions, telling them that the work I was doing would lead to utter chaos and disaster, that they shouldn't trust what we were doing, and it was all doomed to failure. Only he was capable of doing it properly. Most divisions had dealt with him before, and knew he was an utter fuckwit. They politely heard him out, then went back to work. But he raised enough suspicions to make my job a lot harder.

At the end of the job, when it was seen to be quite successful, he then started going around telling everyone that it had been his project all along, and he alone was responsible for its success. Thankfully, I had been around long enough for most people to know who had really done all the work, and his antics only served to add to his aura of fuckwitedness.

When I went to remove the old gear, he put up all sorts of roadblocks, claiming I had no right to get rid of it. When I pointed out that he had signed a stack of paperwork a year before stating that the gear had to go ASAP, he simply strung together a long monologue of ridiculous management wank-speak, and managed to convince our boss that it had to stay.

About a month later, I discovered that Fuckwit had not entered the new equipment into our financial system, so we were not accounting for it. However, because the old gear was still in the system (the idiot had not written that off either), once the new gear was put in, our boss's budget would be hit by a double-whammy of costs.

So much for the vaunted cost savings.

I sneakily submitted the paperwork, and waited for the bean counters to strike. A month later, the monthly financial statement landed on the desk of our boss, and about five minutes later, the whole floor could hear him ranting and raving. I had blown a pretty big hole in his budget. I didn't admit to submitting the paperwork (not my job to do that after all - I told him that Fuckwit must have finally figured out how to do it after 14 months and followed the correct process. Fuckwit denied submitting the paperwork, which only got him in more trouble, since if he had put in the paperwork 14 months before when he should have, we wouldn't be facing a massive budget blowout. Sometimes, you just have to love paperwork).

The upshot was that I got my approval to rip the old gear out, and it was gone before the sun went down. Fuckwit stormed off, because he had never intended to get rid of it - he was going to use it for an unauthorised project, and I had thwarted his plans.

Where is this story going?

About a year later, I left the company. Fuckwit stayed, but his responsibilities were handed over to another bloke.

10 months after that, the new guy rang me to bitch and moan. Some of the stuff had broken down, and it was out of warranty because Fuckwit had never submitted the warranty paperwork - and he hadn't bought the extended warranty (as he was supposed to), so they were facing a bill of over $50,000. To cap it off, the 3 year lease was almost up, and he was spewing because they had to buy new stuff to replace stuff that had only been in service for 2 years - effectively costing $300,000 per year instead of $200,000 per year - a fairly major cost difference. He was facing all sorts of problems because before Fuckwit handed over, he had to put in a budget forecast. He of course completely forgot to forecast the replacement of not only all that gear, but about $4 million worth of other equipment.

The point of my story is that there are many Fuckwits in the public sector. They are responsible for spending millions and millions of our dollars, and they cock it up almost every time. The squandering that goes on is criminal. The best thing that can happen to the NSW government is happening - revenues have slumped dramatically, pushing the budget into deficit. They'll soon have no choice but to cut like crazy. I think Costa saw this coming, and look what happened to him for daring to point it out. The public sector will soon be going on a crash diet, and it's about bloody time.

What sickens me though is that Rudd is going to throw billions at the state sector this year in the belief that the money will be spent on "refurbishing" the public sector.

If he really thinks that is the case, he has his head even further up his arse than I ever would have thought possible.

And if you think I am a bit over the top, look at this example from the UK.

OK, I only described one waste of money in this story. I felt it was getting too long to describe a second one.

1 comment:

Wand said...

What sickens me though is that Rudd is going to throw billions at the state sector this year in the belief that the money will be spent on "refurbishing" the public sector.

I share your concerns particularly after reading this article which I found linked by a commenter at Bolt’s blog this morning.