The recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scandal serves as a glaring reminder that complexity, whether by design or omission, costs all of us. It doesn’t matter where you stand in the political spectrum, this scandal shows a much larger audience the sort of unnecessary bureaucratic complexity that is all too familiar to truckers.
First, we all spend money to pay somebody who complicates things. Then more money is spent to comply with the overly complex process. The second expense may not cost you or I directly, but it’s money that the payer no longer has to buy something from you or I. Almost universally, the added complexity benefits nobody except the person or agency adding the complication.
Non-Profit Targeting Scandal
In this most recent example of unnecessary complexity, it has been reported that right-of-center advocacy groups’ non-profit applications were uniquely targeted. The IRS further complicated the application process with various tactics intended to delay or discourage the applicants.
Having secured non-profit status for two different groups, I can attest to the simplicity of the process under normal circumstances. The volunteer management of your typical local car club could easily complete the application in one afternoon. Status is generally granted without further question well inside of 90 days, even during a busy spell. Any follow-up is nothing more than clarifying a vague or unusual part of the group’s financial operations.
According to numerous reports that cover the targeting scandal, application processing was delayed and sometimes involved incredibly complex follow-up requests unrelated to the applying group’s operations or finances. In some cases, the cost of complexity led the groups to drop their applications all together.
Please Print Out The Internet
My personal favorite among the odd requirements reported by applicants was the request to provide “a copies of the groups’ web pages.” Never mind the fact that most websites don’t usually survive the transition to paper very well. The real laugh here is that such a request came from one of the agencies involved with remaking the medical industry, including the move to electronic medical records.
Really? The same folks who are going to track my blood pressure electronically seem to be unaware of this little thing called the internet that the rest of us use to view websites? Yeah, right.
Not Just The IRS
Unfortunately, complexity and delay isn’t unique to the IRS or the current political environment. Several years ago, I was a contributor to a government agency project aimed at reducing truck idling. Long after the work was done, during the fifth or sixth round of submitting requested forms so I could be paid, I received a multi-page form that involved declaring under oath, that nothing in my printed report on truck idling contained any radioactive material.
Somebody created this form, somebody else decided it applied to a printed report about truck idling, somebody else wrote a cover letter and sent me the form, and somebody else received, reviewed, and filed that form. To this day, my guarantee that a diesel idling report didn’t contain any radioactive material is probably still filed away somewhere in a pricey government office. By this time, the total cost of that one form likely exceeds the entire bill for the actual project.
Complexity Is Often Selective
Sometime during step #397 of the still ongoing Hours of Service (HOS) regulation revision, I hunted around the DOT website to see how the HOS regulations for commercial airline pilots compared to those for truckers. At that time, the entire regulation for airline pilots occupied one short paragraph, in clear, direct language that could be easily understood by the typical fifth-grader. In short, the pilots were required to get eight hours sleep out of every 24 hours, and work no more than X hours per month.
Reading this simple, clear regulation was a bit of a shock because just a week earlier, the DOT had issued several pages that attempted to clear up confusion about the 34-hour restart provision of the new HOS regulations for truckers. This wasn’t a replacement of the 34-hour restart rules, it was just an attempt to explain them, and it ran into six pages.
The problem with a regulation that complex is that no two people are likely to understand it the same way. A driver and a dispatcher are just as unlikely to agree on the rules as are a highway patrolman and a driver. Guess who loses in both of those disagreements?
I’ve made a career out of explaining complex topics to a wide variety of audiences. I’ve successfully taught truckers about the inner workings of laptop computers and GPS navigation systems. Lately though, I’ve been hesitant to try explaining anything about the HOS regulations, because just as soon as anything can be written, it’s likely to be outdated. Uncertainty is just another form of unnecessary complexity.
More than a decade into their implementation, the HOS regulations are now set to be finalized on July 1st. But then again, how many times have we heard that before?