Right people, wrong jobs
March 28, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

After spending the best part (or rather, the worst part) of an afternoon engaged in the excruciating task of extracting census data for a story, it occurred to me that the government doesn’t need to bother with secret documents.

The stuff they publish for public consumption is so incomprehensible it is unlikely that anyone is ever going to figure it out.

Now, before anyone suggests I am being too hard on those hard-working government employees, I must point out that it is not their fault.

I support the government in this instance, and I have a suggestion that, if adopted, will make life easier for everyone involved.

You see, contrary to popular opinion, the problem is not that the government workers are incompetent. The problem is a flaw in the government job screening and hiring process.

The federal government is made up of a wide assortment of departments, each working busily away in its own area of responsibility.

There are times when the folks in Washington are required to deal with classified or secret information. As a result, departments have been created to keep secrets, and to be in charge of highly-sensitive information that the government doesn’t want anyone to know about.

The government is also in charge of gathering and disseminating public information. There are departments for these jobs, as well. They create the forms and instructions that the government uses when it wants to collect data. These include tax forms, drivers’ license applications, withholding forms, and things like that.

I have been studying both of these groups for a long time, and I think I have finally figured out what the problem is.

The people who are in charge of keeping secrets and the people who are in charge of publishing public information are all in the wrong jobs.

Maybe there is an incorrect question on the government’s employment application, or perhaps it is a problem in the screening process. Whatever it is, these people just don’t seem to be doing the jobs for which they are most suited, or that they would most enjoy.

The people who are supposed to be keeping secrets aren’t always successful at it. There are many examples, including the recent controversy over Wikileaks, that seem to support this.

On the other hand, the people who are in charge of gathering and disseminating public information cannot be accused of glowing success, either.

To the average Joe or Josie on the street, most government forms make no sense.

The public employees have a way of wording the simplest question in a way that makes it confusing.

The instructions that accompany the questions resemble those that come with products that require assembly which are written by people for whom English is not their native language, and who have apparently never seen, much less assembled, the product to which the instructions apply.

My suggestion is simple. All we have to do is get them to switch jobs.

If the people who are currently in charge of keeping secrets were to transfer to the information distributing departments, they would probably be much happier and more successful.

If the people who are now producing government publications transfer to the spy departments (I know they call them “intelligence” departments, but years of experience have taught me that government intelligence is an oxymoron, and I can’t bring myself to use that label), it would do wonders for national security, because no one would ever be able to decipher their way of explaining things.

If we Americans can’t figure out what they mean, there is no way anyone who wasn’t born and raised in this country will ever make heads or tails out of this stuff.

The most straightforward government publication is likely to leave the terrorists and international no-goodniks scratching their heads.

The workers wouldn’t even need to use code, because the clearer these birds try to make things, the more difficult they are to understand.

If there are top secret documents that we really need to be sure our enemies won’t understand, all we have to do is bring in those very special men and women who the government uses to “simplify” things.

Frequently, in response to complaints from citizens, the government will take a second or third whack at streamlining or simplifying their forms or documents. In most cases, the result is to convert something that was difficult to understand into something that is so utterly incomprehensible as to defy the imagination.

I am confident that my suggestion will not only help keep secrets secret and make public information more accessible to the public, but it will do so without any of our precious government employees losing their jobs.

Unfortunately, as sensible as my suggestion might be, it is unlikely that the government will adopt it. Our fearless leaders never seem to take my ideas seriously, no matter how helpful or well-intentioned they are.

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