Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Red & Extremely Sticky

During the twelve or so years I worked for the Commonwealth of Kentucky as a social worker, I learned about “red tape.” It seemed to be everywhere in the bureaucracy of state government. During the ten years I was a supervisor/manager, I prided myself on being able to cut through the red tape in order to get things done and, most importantly, to help people get their needs met.

For example, when John Young Brown (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame) was elected governor, he decided to cut the cost of government (as has every politician I have ever known). One of the actions he took was to require all state offices to justify in writing the need for any supplies they ordered. Of course, since all bureaucracies run on paper, especially forms, a new form was developed on which to write that justification. And, of course, in the normal SNAFU and absurdity of government, one had to order a supply of these new forms in order to order anything else. Unfortunately, without the new form, one could not write a justification for ordering the new form.

My primary secretary came into my office complaining that all orders for supplies she sent to our central office in Frankfort were being retuned because they were not accompanied by the written justification on the new form. And every order she had sent included a requisition for the new form. And, since everyone knows that a bureaucracy runs on forms, my office was in jeopardy of ceasing to function.

Since I considered myself proficient in cutting red tape, I calmed my secretary and told her that I would handle it. I picked up the telephone and contacted the office that handled the distribution of forms. And I attempted to explain our need to one of those bureaucrats who just love to tie things up with red tape. Having had a lot of experience dealing with such anally-fixated government employees, I asked to speak to her supervisor. Eventually I was connected and found myself speaking to a supervisor who was even more of an ass than the clerk with whom I had just talked. And so I asked to speak to his supervisor, and… well, it seems that at all levels of the organization, the people who deal with requisitions had their'heads stuck up their butts!

Recognizing that truism, I had a brainstorm. So I left my office and went to the restroom and unrolled some toilet paper. I took it back to my office and carefully inserted it in my IMC Selectric typewriter (remember: this was back in the dark ages before people had personal computers). And on that toilet paper I typed a requisition and justification for the bloody form we needed to justify ordering the bloody form we needed to order all the forms and other office supplies we needed. Three days later we received a large quantity of the needed form—and my fame across the Department for Social Services was increased a wee bit.

I have not been a bureaucrat for over twenty years; however, I have had to deal with bureaucrats. And I found the worst ones seem to work for the Social Security Administration. Now that might not be a fair statement, because it seems that the Social Security folks are now hampered in what they do by miles of red tape strung up by the Office of Homeland Security.

At this point I would tell you my horrendous story of what I went through to get a replacement Social Security card, except I have an even more absurd story to tell.

An acquaintance of mine had her purse stolen a while back. The purse contained her picture ID (she doesn’t have a driver’s license), her Social Security card, her medical ID, etc. When she attempted to get them replaced, she was informed that she needed a state-issued picture ID. So she went to the Kentucky office to obtain one and was told that she needed her birth certificate to do so. Since she is from another state, she telephoned her parents and asked that they mail to her her birth certificate. I hope neither of my sons ever asks me for his birth certificates because I could do no better than her parents did.

Thus, she wrote to the state of her birth for a copy of her birth certificate. However, they refused to provide it because she needed to include in her request a photocopy of her picture ID which, of course, she didn’t have because she needed her birth certificate in order to get a picture ID. Therefore, she had to have her mother order a copy of her birth certificate for her, even though she is an adult.

After a couple of week’s delay until the certified birth certificate arrived, and armed with that paper that stated she had been born, she returned to the state office to get the photo ID she needs. There they told her the birth certificate was OK, but she also needed an original Social Security card. "But," she said, "that, too, was stolen when my photo ID was stolen." Well, the state bureaucrat (maybe she was the same one with whom I spoke a quarter of a century or so ago), said “tough.” Because of Homeland Security regulations, they could not make her a photo ID without seeing her original Social Security card.

Sooooooooooooo… her next stop was the Social Security Administration field office. And—you guessed it—there she was told that Homeland Security regulations require that she must present a photo ID in order to obtain a duplicate of her Social Security card!

As of this writing, my friend is still doing the rounds of the offices and is getting more and more frustrated, and tied up with sticky red tape. I will let you know if she ever gets her picture ID!


  1. Yep, that’s bureaucracy from you!

  2. Oh my, i feel for your friend. How terribly frustrating. I loathe red tape, infact i do my best to cut through it, much to the worries of my boss LOL

  3. That sounds like the old "catch 22" from the military days. ec

  4. LOL, toilet paper worked . . . that is sweet!
    I am sorry for your friend and all the trouble. I think I have learned something here. I always carry my original SS card. With my drivers license in my purse. I think I am going to put it in the safe at home when I get back to Colorado . . . just in case.

  5. I guess one lesson to be learned is to take only the cards with you that you actually need, and keep the others locked up safely somewhere. Jeez, what a mess.

    I feel sorry for the bureaucrats as well. They aren't allowed to use their brains and common sense, they are reduced to being form filler outers. That sort of job is positively soul crushing.

  6. That is so absolutely ridiculous!!! She must be pulling her hair out!! And that reminds me---ages ago I went in to get a new card in my married name (a long time ago, like I said) and I don't think I ever received it!!! Where the heck is it??? Who's got their paws on that???
    Thanks for reminding me! I guess I'll go get on the merry-go-round.

  7. When I worked for the Air Force (as a civilian - I was not enlisted), we used to joke, "Your request has been rejected. Please resubmit your request in triplicate for further rejection in 30 days." Sounds like your situation was no joke!

    And your friend's situation sounds like one HUGE headache! Actually, I got a bit of a headache reading it. Luckily, I brought my own ibuprofen and won't have to requisition it ;-)

  8. Ex-Louisville Guy—I agree.

    Michelle—I, too, do my best to cut red tape. Yet, it can be difficult and frustrating.

    Mreddie—Yep! I immediately thought of “Catch-22” when I heard the story.

    Nina—Yes, the toilet paper memo worked. And, from what people tell me, it has now become a legend still hanging around Kentucky state government.

    The instructions that came with MY replacement Social Security card include not carrying it and keeping it in a safe place. Actually, I’d not carried a Social Security card for 40 years. I had no reason for it since I had memorized the number way back in 1962. However, with the advent of Homeland Security, that has all changed.

    Thomas—That’s an excellent lesson. Unfortunately, my friend was on a bus moving from one state to another when hers was stolen. She had gotten off the bus in El Paso to eat and put her purse inside the carry-on baggage she had stored above her seat. She figured that was safer that carrying it into the rest stop. While she was eating, someone stole the carry-on from above her seat!

    As for bureaucrats, I think you are right and I’d happy that not all act like that—as my today’s blog indicates.

    Jay Are—Yes, she was pulling her hair out. She had been doing so for several weeks before she told me the story.

    I hope you have an easy trip on the bureaucratic merry-go-round!

    Little Sister—I understand the joke and the reality behind it. Glad you have the ibuprofen!