Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Government Regulation: Lowering the Bar

For eleven years I was an employee of the Federal Government.  Eight of those years I was an active duty office in the Air Force and for three years I was a civilian employee of the Air Force.  My work, and those of my colleagues, was very satisfying.  My efforts, in particular, contributed to the training of Air Force pilots and future officers.  It should be no surprise to anyone who has experience with the government, especially the military that I experienced the frustration that comes from the inefficiencies inherent in a large organization.  At times those inefficiencies and contradictions were overbearing in their nature, but a necessary mission and sense of team offset them. 

Since leaving the Air Force four years ago, I’ve worked for two different companies.  The first worked primarily with local and state governments, providing them software as a service.  My current employer provides workforce training.  Much of the funding for our students comes from local, state, and federal agencies.  As a result we are required to go through extensive licensing processes and regular audits and evaluations.  The experiences of the past four years have highlighted the inefficiencies that exist at the state and local level of government as well.  I understand that if we are going to rely on funding from any organization, then we must abide by their rules.  It’s reality.  If I give money to one of my children, often I will tie certain requirements to that money.  It’s the cost of dependence. 

It amazes me how some states and municipalities make doing business difficult, if not impossible.  Somehow we’ve reached the point that it feels like the state is granting us a favor by allowing us to pursue a livelihood.  Now, I understand the arguments for regulation…protecting the consumer, standardization, etc.  I’m not convinced, however, that the benefits of regulation outweigh the costs, at least not to the extent to which we regulate.  How many businesses are never started because of the red tape in front of them?  How many businesses shut their doors and let their employees go because of ever more restrictive and costly regulations? 

Deeper than these costs is the cultural shift.  This shift is towards greater dependence on the government to look after our interests and welfare.  As a result, I believe we are suffering the following consequences:

First, we have been reduced to the lowest common denominator when it comes to many of the services and products businesses provide.  This is especially true in areas where the government has a heavy hand such as education and healthcare.  So much time, effort, and money is spent meeting the requirements set by governments that little is left to pursue innovation and excellence.  Just enough to meet the requirement set by government bureaucrats is sufficient.  These government bureaucrats in most cases are not experts or experienced in the areas where they are setting regulations and guidelines.  As a result the regulations often increase inefficiencies as solution is developed to fit everything or everyone has to meet multiple, often harmful regulations.  We are becoming accustomed to lower qualities of service and products because that’s the best we can get with the government protecting our interests.

Second, as we become dependent on the government to determine who is qualified to operate a business, we fail to take the time and effort necessary to make good and informed decisions.  When something goes wrong, instead of holding ourselves accountable we blame the government agency responsible for regulating that business.  If the business was in compliance, then we demand more stringent regulation.  As more stringent regulations are put in place and enforced, more companies and providers shut their doors, decreasing competition and lowering the common denominator further. 

Dependence dulls our ability to make choices and it reduces our overall choices while lowering quality.  While I sit here wishing for less government regulation, increased competition, and improved quality, I’ll see if I can finish figuring out how to put this license packet together for the state.

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