Friday, November 17, 2023

Simple solutions to complex problems

This is Joseph.

Something that always amazes me is how there is a brand of political solutions that suggest that this "one simple trick" could solve a difficult and daunting problem. One of the best examples of this comes from presidential . . . aspirant (contender seems strong given Mark's reporting) Vivek Ramaswamy. 

The tweets in questions are here

Now it is true that a lottery system will insulate the administration from a personal bias claim and make disproportionate impact hard. On the other hard, large cuts that are thoughtfully made will also tend to have this property (of not creating bias claims).

I have questions. Here are a few:

Who is in the civil service? 

So does that include Federal Judges? Supreme court justices? What about the rules governing judges? Do we just replace the key persons immediately (e.g., will judges really suddenly have half as many clerks and not care?). 

Or what about the secret service? Do they now guard half as many people or the same number very badly? What does the FBI do? What happens when the senate confirmed cabinet member has an odd SSN? Did we just gut military support services? 

How is the implemented? 

What about seniority rules? Don't the probationary employees go first? What about bumping rights? Does this just fire the junior half of the civil service creating a knowledge pipeline problem in the future? 

Judges will run afoul of article 3 of the constitution. Plus, to be cynical, it is unlikely that judges will suddenly fall in love with a new way of firing judges. 

What about essential functions? For example, one presumes that there will need to be an ambassador in every country with an embassy? Aren't we just rehiring people for essential functions and do we really think clever lawyers won't come up with causes of action based on harm? It might not be discriminatory, but to fire a person with seniority to immediately replace them outside of the existing rules seems like a very expensive plan. 

Separation of powers?

There are also congressional laws on this subject. They include fun things like "Willfully obstruct a person's right to compete for employment." being against current laws. How does an odd SSN not count? Maybe it does and maybe it does not, but I think a lawsuit from a bunch of suddenly dismissed workers at a military base in Nebraska seems likely. How much savings you have left post-lawsuit is an interesting question. 

Worse, who will still be able to hold to budgets when they need to hire a ton of emergency contractors? 

The nitpicks are the point

I am immediately jumping to the hard cases but that is very deliberate. Once you start building out a case then it quickly becomes clear that this plan is not simple and never was. It is dramatic and attention grabbing but the exact opposite of a well thought out plan. The argument that absolutely nothing will be break involves a complete lack of understanding of what is and is not properly staffed.

I really dislike this myth. In the movie Dave, a small town accountant works miracles on the federal budget in an evening. This line of thinking is just bogus. Large and complex organizations need to be carefully curated to avoid real problems. It would be no different going to Meta and firing 50% of the employees at random -- you'd suddenly have a lot of regrets. It's time for this myth to just die. 

1 comment:

  1. Joseph:

    My guess is that the impossibility of implementing this plan is a feature, not a bug. If the president could really fire half of the civil service all at once, it would be, oh, I don't know, I'd expect a disaster but who knows, it's so far outside the realm of anything that's happened before. But, since it can't be done, that's a win---Ramaswamy can just say that he had this great idea but wasn't able to try it out because of those pesky bureaucrats. If the plan could ever really happen, somebody might be concerned about it, but since it can't, he can get the attention and applause without the cost.