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June 2, 2015

institutional incompetence

One of my explanations for the Slow Degradation of All Things is this theory that I think of as Institutional Incompetence. Basically, in any career or trade or activity, it is written in stone that some percentage of the practitioners will suck at it. And I'm not positing some set percentage across the board. For example, I'm guessing for the position of Walmart floor staff, it may well be pretty high. And for brain surgeon, we of course pray that the percentage is very very low, but be assured that there are at least a handful of them that are just not very good at brain surgery. Institutional Incompetence! Or, human beings have the tendency to fail themselves.

This story, in which Homeland Security conducts an audit of how good the TSA actually is at screening airplane passengers, is what brings the issue to mind. I mean:

According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General's report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints.

That obviously would be a very high degree of institutional incompetence. Takeawy: either the TSA auditors are really good at sneaking weapons, or no terrorist has actually tried to do so in the past 14 years. But why is the TSA so crappy at their jobs? Is a general lack of motivation? Is it indolence? Is sneaking stuff onto planes just so easy to do that the TSA inspections are just window dressing to make the public think that the government is doing all it can?

Or is it that if you give the average person the chance to fail, they will? Moreover, and this is where my interest lies, although I have absolutely no answer, is this institutional incompetence becoming more and more endemic as time progresses? As in, if there were such a thing as a TSA back in 1960, would they have been better at there jobs than they are now in 1960? And for that matter: do you maybe remember a time when Walmart, back when it was Wal-mart, as icky as it was, actually hummed with efficiency and a weirdly happy staff? As compared to today, when walking into a Walmart is like a peek into what happened between Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road.

And the other way to phrase this is: are people getting awfuller or am I just know realizing that people are actually awful?

Thinking out loud! As usual.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 AM