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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  May 17, 2009
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Topic category:  Other/General

An unpaid balance.

“Any sufficiently advanced bureaucracy is indistinguishable from molasses.” - Anonymous

If you wonder about my dislike of an ever larger federal government and its associated bureaucracy, I herein offer one small example of the wretched perfidy they’re capable of. The following is a letter I wrote in August of 1991. Names have been changed because of another quote that I’ve paraphrased says: “Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.”

MEMORANDUM FOR: Director, Travel and Financial Management Center

FROM: Commanding Officer, Research Vessel XXXXX

SUBJECT: Unpaid Balance on Travel Advance

Sir, I've just received your third notice regarding the unpaid travel advance balance of Mr. John Doe for the period August 28 - September 8, 1983, in the amount of $1.97.

I apologize for not responding to the first two notices as I thought one of my officers was playing a practical joke. I realized my error after receiving your more strongly worded third notice. I now assure you of my complete attention to this matter of $1.97.

My Executive Officer has just conducted an investigation, but I regret to report that Mr. Doe is no longer a member of the crew and that there is no record of his travel in our files. Desiring to leave no stone unturned, I attempted to locate the Commanding Officer of this vessel at that time. Alas, he's long since retired and that effort was also a failure.

Some benefit did accrue to this investigation, however. It turned up a missing document thought to have been destroyed. Unfortunately, the document has no bearing on Mr. Doe’s now eight-year-old outstanding travel balance in the amount of $1.97.

In our defense, I wish to state that we have just completed a two month project and are more than 1000 miles from our home port. We're now preparing to receive a new scientific party and all related equipment prior to departure on a four month journey.

We're coordinating the delivery of milk, fruit, meat, vegetables, bread, toilet paper (it’s important), fuel filters, toothpaste, light bulbs, copper tubing, grease guns, a dive compressor, manila lines, 15 turnbuckles, medical supplies, ice cream, movies, and 40,000 gallons of fuel - all to a pier where, apparently, no one has the foggiest notion of who gives permission for such deliveries to be made.

We are making repairs to a life raft cradle, re-spooling 6000 meters of wire onto a winch, and attempting to fix three particularly obnoxious outboard motors so as to continue the scientific protocols required of us.

Of the officers aboard, five are recent arrivals with less than three months experience. I’ve committed two of our remaining days in port to maneuvering drills in order to give them an appreciation of the forces that act on an ocean-going vessel.

Despite all of this, I again assure you of my undivided attention and that I consider resolution of this matter to be of utmost urgency.

Accordingly, I called a meeting of the crew to explain my decision on the handling of this problem. I told them that it would be done internally without referring it to our headquarters. I did this because I believe that time is of the essence in this matter of $1.97.

At the meeting, a collection was taken and enclosed you will find 197 pennies. This collection provided many of the crew the opportunity to get rid of the copper that had accumulated in their pockets, desks, chairs, beds, etc. Further, I have completed new stability calculations (see attached) and find that the loss of this weight of metal poses no threat to the trim of my vessel. I have, therefore, approved the transfer and forwarding to you of this amount (and weight) from the ship.

In closing, I wonder if you are familiar with the (possibly apocryphal) response of Lord Wellington to a query of his government during an arduous military campaign. If not, I'd like to pass it on to you:

“Is it Your Lordships' intent that I endeavor to pursue the assignment immediately at hand, it being the successful conduct of this military campaign, or am I to turn my army to the seemingly never-ending task of preparing satisfactory responses to the endless and inane inquiries of a bunch of desk-bound quill drivers?”

I hope this resolves the matter.

Bigger government. Bigger bureaucracies.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.

Read other commentaries by Larry Simoneaux.

Copyright © 2009 by Larry Simoneaux
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