April 12th, 2011
04:59 PM ET

Letters to the President: #813 'Bad to the bone'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The latest news from Japan is that the nuclear disaster is worse than thought.

Dear Mr. President,

Is the bad news ever going to stop over in Japan? I mean seriously. I was just reading about this upgrading (or downgrading, depending on how you see it) of their nuclear problems, and I feel as if those folks just can’t catch a break.

On a much smaller scale I’ve had bad times occasionally in my life which have seemed endless. I don’t believe in fate, or luck, I suppose, but now and then you certainly feel as if you get more than your fair share of hard times, huh?

Now, in Japan’s case, they were undeniably hit by a massive series of terrible events. But in other cases, there are times when I think that we just have too many systems operating too close to the breakdown level anyway. Then it only takes a tiny thing to make them collapse.

It’s like the DC Beltway. On a regular day it is so jammed with cars at rush hour it is barely functioning at some of the bottlenecks, so if someone gets a flat or smacks into someone else’s fender while changing lanes, that’s all it takes to bring everything to a halt. Maybe if that roadway weren’t already near the breaking point it could better accommodate such problems.

I think this has been one of the fallacies of all sorts of business and government offices trying to cut costs. While keeping expenses under control is good, if things are cut too close to the bone, there is just no wiggle room left to handle the unexpected. So things that maybe should be merely serious inconveniences turn into near disasters. An airline, for example, that has precisely enough planes and crews to handle its daily schedule might be seen by some as remarkably efficient; but the day that one person calls in sick, the whole operation screeches into chaos.

Just a thought for you to keep in mind as you work on your budget cutting plans. Sure, we can’t afford waste, but cutting is a delicate matter that must consider not only the primary goal of spending less but also the secondary one of making sure things keep working in the process.

I’m in New Orleans tonight. Bet you wish you were here. Ha!


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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Kathleen

    I'm sure there is massive waste in many areas of government at all levels. But when is someone going to actually send operations teams with experts into each department to analyze systems and figure out what can be done to streamline processes. The business of government isn't that different than "business." I've worked for both at various levels. This can be done to counteract legislation that is written by people who are well-meaning but have no idea of the effect of their policies and the difficulties administering them. For example for many years the Food Stamp program cost twice the program cost to administer. We could have helped more people by greatly streamlining the application process.

    April 12, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  2. Dawn R

    If congress has failed to produce a solid budget back 6 months ago, and now us american's are paying the price for everything from Food to Gas, why is it that the members of Congress are still making $174K and don't have to give up anything.

    If congress fails to do their job, their paychecks should be with held until they do their jobs just like the rest of us.

    April 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm |