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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive


September 10, 2007

The Bureaucrats’ Wise Words: If I Do It For You, I’ll Have to Do It for Everyone!


I realized today that I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I had the whole customer service thing backwards. So I decided I was going to try something the next time a customer asked me to do something – which took about 12 minutes to occur.


“D.F., can you shoot me a copy of those meeting notes?” said the customer. “I forgot to save them to my other computer and I want to work on them today while I’m off site.”


I’d been waiting for this.


“If I do it for you, I’d have to do it for everyone,” I said.




“What did you say, D.F.?”


Ooh. Cool. I was going to get to say it again.


“If I do it for you, I’d have to do it for everyone!” Yep. This time with emphasis.


The customer wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.


“Do you not have a copy?” he wondered.


Oh. I had a copy. It would have taken me six seconds to get it. But hey! I can’t be chasing after stuff like this all day. Why can’t the customer save his own copy? What am I? His servant?


I saw the light when I accompanied Mrs. Krause to the state’s Vital Records Office, where she needed to stop to get a copy of her birth certificate so we could cross into Canada without being hauled into the immigration office.


We were in a bit of a hurry, and we thought it might help to call ahead and let them know what we would need before we arrived.


“Can I let you know over the phone what we need so you can start looking for it before we get there?” I asked at Mrs. Krause’s insistence, since I was pretty sure I knew what the answer would be.


“No,” said the voice. “We can’t do that.”


Government employees have mastered the art of making the words “can’t” and “won’t” mean the same thing. I can’t see any evidence to support the notion that they can’t do it. I give you the information over the phone, or I give it to you in person. Either way, you’re searching for the same information. What they really mean is that they won’t do it. Because . . . ?


“If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone.”


And we wouldn’t want that.


I don’t think your run-of-the-mill government bureaucrat has any concept of the notion that people who work in the private sector – brace yourselves – do it for everyone!


That’s because everyone who pays us for a service expects that service to be first-rate, and they don’t have to keep paying us for the service if it isn’t delivered in the way they want it.


And yet, I can’t help but notice that private businesses come and go, but governments seem to go on and on forever. When was the last time a state went out of business? Or even a city? Cleveland came close when Dennis Kucinich was mayor, but even he wasn’t incompetent enough to kill an entire city.


What does that tell you? The government workers must have it right. So I’m sticking to my guns.


“I’m not getting the file for you!” I insist. “If I did it for you, I’d have to do it for everyone!”


Then the customer busted up laughing.


“D.F., it kills me whenever you do your government employee imitation. Send the file to my home e-mail address, and thanks a lot.”


And he hung up. The nerve. If I do this for him, I’m going to have to do it for everyone. Just like I do every day.


Sigh. Some people just aren’t cut out for government work.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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