Monday, February 09, 2009

Regulating Customers

Please make this an issue Obama can fix (emphasis added):
Runaways are not supposed to be put in jail, let alone meet adult lawbreakers on the inside, under a 34-year-old federal law called the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.  Yet year after year, some states disregard key parts of the law with little consequence, an Associated Press examination has found. Those states included Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina and Washington in 2006, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which administers the act, has a policy of not naming publicly the noncompliant states and not disclosing how those states have run afoul of the law. As a result, many kids become victims, advocates say.

It was only after a six-month, back-and-forth process under FOIA that the AP obtained records of states' compliance from the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.  The office said it doesn't routinely name noncompliant states because it doesn't want to embarrass them.

"I don't think it's ever a good customer-friendly service to embarrass somebody, do you?" said Greg Thompson, an office administrator who works with states to comply with the law. "I think we achieve more by working collegially with the states rather than trying to work adversarially with them."

Records released to AP show Mississippi has complied with fewer areas of the law than any other state — except perhaps Wyoming, which hasn't participated in the law since 1993.
And the issue I'm talking about is the jackass quoted in the bolded section.  Because, no, non-compliant states are not his customers.  I mean, Wyoming hasn't complied for fifteen years.  Real successful strategy there, Greg.  They're clearly not going to do the right thing on their own, so perhaps if Wyoming residents realized their government was screwing them over, they might do something about it.  But no, people like Greg imagine that Wyoming's rights are more important than those of the citizens of Wyoming.

Customers v. Products

The reality is that all Americans are his customers.  The teenage runaways being wrongly imprisoned with adults are his customers.  And getting states to comply is the service he provides.  It's like if a KFC employee imagined that the chickens were his customer.  And hey, it's not good service to cut up and deep fry your customers, is it.

But this guy isn't the only one who forgets this kind of thing.  Government regulators often imagine that the people they're regulating are their clients.  The SEC protects big business from investors.  The FDA streamlines approval of new drugs.  The Pentagon writes contracts to match the items their contractors want to sell them.  And financial scandals like Enron could only happen because the auditors thought their client was Enron's management.

And in all these cases, the problem is that it's human nature to think of the people you deal with on a regular basis as the one's you're there for.  But they're not.  In each of these cases, the customer base is the general public.  But they don't deal with the general public on a regular basis.  They deal with the organizations they regulate.  And so they lose sight of what the real goal is and lose their objectivity.  The emphasis is on being friendly and making things easier.  And the result is that their real customers suffer.  

I hope Obama has some plans to do something about that.  Or at a minimum, not letting FOIA requests slide for so long.  The government is ours, not theirs.

No comments: