The Edmond Sun

September 21, 2013

HEY HINK: Bureaucracy threatens civilized solutions

Mike Hinkle
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — In the interest of fairness, I need to make a disclosure. I have a bias against bureaucracies. Throughout my adult life, I have, again and again, been forced to yield to the dictates of bureaucrats in order to secure information, assets, licenses, certificates, transcripts, admissions, releases, documents, waivers, copies and refunds to which I was undeniably entitled. I have filled out countless forms, paid duplicative fees, been shunted from office to office, placed on hold, sent to the back of the line, delayed, denied and ignored.

This column isn’t long enough to catalog my many encounters with smug, incompetent, dictatorial, unfeeling, lazy, forgetful, rude, paranoid and semi-conscious bureaucrats; so I won’t.

I will resist the temptation to use this column as a forum to expose a typically bureaucratic outrage inflicted upon a colleague who recently acquired her MFA degree. This is as high as one can go in the academic field of creative writing. It is as demanding, time-consuming and rigorous as any English Ph.D. program. But, since the educational bureaucracy is lagging behind the educational times, she is not considered qualified for the compensation package to which a successful Ph.D. candidate would be entitled. One is reminded of a quote by Laurence J. Peter who formulated the famous “Peter principle.” “Bureaucracy defends the status quo long after the time when the quo has lost its status.”

But I don’t want to make this personal. Let’s just take a look at a recent news item.

Back in June, Nakia Grimes, the 37-year-old mother of a little boy, needed to renew her driver’s license. She didn’t realize the Georgia Legislature had imposed additional documentary burdens on citizens applying for renewed licenses. She needed a birth certificate or passport, neither of which she had.

When she went to secure a copy of her birth certificate, she discovered, to her amazement, disappointment and embarrassment that someone checked the wrong box when she was born. According to the document, she was a baby boy. This was clearly a clerical error committed without any culpability on Grimes’ part. The solution seems simple. Amend the certificate.

But the simple solution was out of the question. The bureaucrat in charge informed Grimes if she wanted to amend the document and renew her driver’s license, she must follow these steps to prove she was, in fact, a woman; 1. Go get a Pap smear, 2. Get a doctor’s note verifying the test results, 3. Have the note verified by a notary public.

While we’re waiting for the magnitude of this expensive, humiliating bureaucratic burden to sink in, let’s keep a couple of things in mind.

First, Grimes had absolutely no part in creating this problem. Consequently, to cast upon her the burden and expense of correcting somebody else’s “screw up” seems patently unfair. In addition, it’s not as if she’s free to say, “I refuse to participate.” As a mother, her life becomes immeasurably more complicated if she has no driver’s license. She really had no choice. She had to persuade the bureaucrats to grant her that license.

Grimes’ case came to the attention of local news professionals who shined a light on the situation. Sure enough, this exposure caused bureaucrats higher up the food chain to come scurrying to her assistance. After high level conferencing punctuated by some checking and crosschecking, the Georgia bureaucrats came up with an inspired solution. On one hand, they had Grimes’ birth certificate suggesting she was a baby boy. On the other hand, they had her son’s birth certificate establishing she was the boy’s mother. After some head scratching, it was agreed that giving birth to a child was sufficient evidence that Grimes was, after all, a woman. Her birth certificate was amended.

Though Grimes suffered the wear and tear of being processed through the bureaucratic machine, her story had a satisfactory ending. But for every happy conclusion, there are thousands of voiceless victims every day who endure the furies and frustrations inherent in dealing with bureaucracies.

The perils of falling into the hands of an unfeeling bureaucracy are bad enough. Ask Ms. Grimes. But recent developments suggest the rise of a new phenomenon; the tyranny of the malevolent bureaucracy. Just ask those unfavored groups still awaiting IRS approval of their tax-exempt status. We have to ask ourselves, why on earth would Americans sit still and let the federal government blanket us with the most massive centralized bureaucracy in the history of mankind? Beats me. We’d do well to recall Balzac’s warning; “Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.” I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.