Nothing Works Anymore: Bureaucratic Dysfunction


The Significant Other and I are spending the second half of the year in Tennessee, where we have family connections and people are generally friendly and welcoming. So far, it’s going well, but the details have been — how to say it — pretty &*#@$% irritating.

The SO set out to turn off most of our New Jersey cable package (TV, wifi) while maintaining our cellphone plans. This did not require a visit by a technician, just a few buttons pushed at the central office. Convincing the cable company people to push the appropriate buttons took eight hours of phone discussions over three days with various “customer care” representatives. The SO employed his usual technique of asking to speak with a manager, several times, but this too was unavailing. We think we got it done, but I’m still not sure.

Once in our new state we had to do some business with the motor vehicles department. We went to a large office that was full of people standing around and pulled a number from the take-a-number machine. Our number was 74. The latest call had been for No. 31. There were two employees working with customers. We left.

A week later, we tried a different strategy. We went to a much smaller office that was well concealed in a small storefront in a suburban strip mall. Four workers were processing requests, and only a few people were waiting. We were called within three minutes and were done seven minutes later. By the time we left, two of the four employees were twiddling their thumbs waiting for future customers.

Let’s recap here: Big, busy office, two employees helping customers. Small, empty office, four employees helping customers.

Since we had a second apartment empty for the rest of the year, we found a renter with good credit and references from previous landlords. We signed a rental agreement.

The day before she moved in, she transferred the first month’s rent and a security deposit from her account to our account at the same well-regarded national bank. Not a wire transfer to a different institution, a simple intrabank transfer. All the names and numbers on the sending and receiving accounts were entered correctly.

That was more than two weeks ago. The money still has not showed up in our account.

We know she sent the money because she sent a screen shot of the money being transferred out of her account and it has not been bounced back into her account.

She and we talk with the bank people almost every day, and we are assured that the money is in the process of being transferred.

So far, no luck.
More Cable

The apartment cable was transferred to the new tenant, but only over time. First the telephone worked. A few days later, the television cable was connected. Then, a few days later, the wifi roared to life. All the transfers were arranged as a bundle in a single, straightforward  agreement with another “customer care” representative, but each step — phone, television, wifi — required one or more days and conversations with phone reps to get the normal service switches accomplished.

Our tenant is some kind of software maven, certainly better equipped than we to navigate this bureaucracy. But even she was stymied.
Back to Us

We found a suitable rental apartment in downtown Nashville and sat down to arrange the lease. The application included more questions than our first mortgage: a credit report, income verification, analysis of our assets, lists of places we have lived over the last 10 years and our criminal records.

(Our last police encounter was a parking ticket, issued and paid longer ago than I can remember. Meanwhile, our home state of New Jersey issues arrest warrants for people who are behind on multiple parking tickets. What a world. )

The next day we received a very long agreement to docu-sign (an internet thing), but the opening and closing dates on the lease were not the ones that we had agreed upon the day earlier — and that the rental agent had WRITTEN DOWN — during from the previous day’s conversation.

The SO called and reminded the agent of the dates we had discussed. Another copy of the lease was emailed.

The second copy of the lease arrived with the same wrong dates.

The SO called again.

On the third try, the lease agreement arrived with the correct dates, and we “docu-signed.” Success.


The Problem

If these were complicated arrangements, maybe I could see it. But changing cable service and renting apartments and transferring money and DMV transactions are are everyday events. All the workers charged with completing these routine business matters have plenty of opportunities to gain skills in doing their jobs efficiently.

Given this, I would expect these organizations to function like well-oiled machines. The fact that they do not is not just annoying (and, boy is it annoying) but frightening.

I know from experience that our health insurance company cannot keep track of charges for our high-deductible medical plan. Every time I submit a bill, the company denies the charge in a letter addressed not to me, but to my doctor. Every time I make a phone call about this, I learn that yes, I submitted the paperwork right, but no, the claims agent processed it wrong.

I’m getting tired of this.

One time I went to the hospital (burst appendix) and my doctor prescribed my two regular medications while I stayed for two days on intravenous antibiotics. The drugs dealt with minor matters, and two days off presented no threat to my health. Still, they were entered into my computerized chart and never administered. (On the plus side, I got a parking voucher for the day I drove myself to the hospital.)

What happens if I get really sick? If what I see all around me extends to the healthcare system — and what I’ve seen so far suggests that it does — I’ll die within days.

Makes me a little skeptical of our social/governmental/administrative arrangements.

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