healthy competition is, well, healthy

I have had the wonderful pleasure a couple of times in the last month to visit government offices to conduct business. For clarification, I am talking about places like the DMV and the post office.

These places are models of inefficiency.

Of course they are poorly managed—there is no incentive for them to improve their service. They are in competition with no one. No one is competing with the DMV and most cities/counties have only one location. While FedEx and UPS are competition for the US Postal Service in packages, the same doesn’t apply for regular mail service. While there may be another post office nearby (in many cases closer than your “official” post office) you can’t stop at the most convenient one to pick up your mail.

The result of having no competition breeds complacency; complacency in the department which spreads to the employees. The inefficiency results in huge amounts of cumulatively wasted time.

There is no express lane. There is no vetting process. There is no real organization. Even at the DMV, where they utilize a numbering system based on what service you require, they still go in order arrival. There isn’t one line for this service which typically takes less than a minute and another line for that service which typically takes more than ten. While that system works out well for all of those waiting for the 10+ service, it has little to no benefit for the minute and under crowd.

After waiting 30 or more minutes, you may end up at the window to find out you don’t even have all the paperwork you need for the service you require. If the secretary would take a minute to ask what paperwork the person had, they could determine whether they had everything they needed. Not only would that save the individual's time, since they wouldn’t have to wait 30 minutes for nothing, it would save time for everyone because people wouldn't take time at the counter to find out they were unprepared. Instead, we all suffer through a terrible system because there is no reason for the DMV to improve its service and compete with anyone else.

I waited almost 30 minutes at the post office to pick up a key to my mailbox. I was waiting because all of the three postal service workers stepped off the line. The first one came back and looked around wondering where the other two had gone. When the second came back they were asked where they had been. They had “gotten talking in the back” even though 10 people were in line before they walked away. The two of them then continued to complain about the 3rd worker who had yet to return after 15 minutes away.

When I finally got to the front of the line I was informed there was a waiting list—for a month. They have to rekey the lock and they are about a month out. She showed me the list which filled a landscape page of paper. There were roughly 20-25 names on the form. So basically, the post office is able to rekey one mailbox a day and that’s it. It takes someone 8 hours to change out a lock? I am not even an expert and I know I can change more than one lock a day.

I don’t mean for this post to be political which is why I have chosen these two specific government organizations/programs. They have been around a long time and aren’t going anywhere. My point with this post is this: competition is good. Competition fosters innovation, creativity, efficiency and stream-lining, and advancement. Without competition businesses and organizations stagnate because there is no need for them to improve anything.

In corporate America, a business must remain competitive or customers will go to the competition. Government organizations are perhaps the very best argument of why competition is a good thing for all of us. If every business was run the way the DMV or the Post Office is, we would all waste inordinate amounts of every day just waiting to conduct business. We would never be able to do our own work because we would spend more time waiting for everyone else to do theirs.