The daily work of government is unremarkable, in the literal sense: it’s not worth remarking on. The roads are plowed, the mail is delivered, services rendered, benefits distributed, contracts are signed and executed. We don’t even think about the vast majority of what government does.
It’s only on those relatively rare occasions when government (1) fails to function properly, or (2) impinges on something you or I want to do, that we notice. And take umbrage.
Which is how government bureaucracy, which does many things quietly and well, becomes a symbol of dysfunction and denial. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, and there ought to be a constant striving to make it work better. But it works pretty darn well most of the time. And once in a while, its quiet function becomes very loudly and obviously useful.
Case in point: one of this summer’s construction projects in Montpelier is a reworking of the sidewalks around the intersection of Elm, Court, and School Streets. This is the corner where the Uncommon Market, that fine little grocery/deli, plies its trade. The main goal of the project is to make the intersection ADA-compliant; it will also make the Market itself more accessible.
But the project’s been put on hold because a routine inspection found something unexpected. The city’s Assistant Public Works Director (now there’s a grand old bureaucratic job title) Tom McArdle explained in a letter to all concerned parties:
Soon after the project was begun, we were made aware of a potential public and contractor safety issue concerning an adjacent brick building housing the Uncommon Market. …the brick wall appeared to be pulling away from the structure and may come tumbling down.
Oopsie. A structural engineer was summoned. The findings:
… it was determined that the brick exterior wall had partially detached from the building and separated from the underlying structure. From that inspection, the structural engineer reported that the wall is in imminent danger of at least a limited collapse and recommended the public sidewalk and parking lane remain closed with fall protection. The engineer further advised that any significant vibration from construction activities could trigger a collapse.
Double oopsie with nuts.
So the project is on hold and the area near the wall has been blocked off. The building’s owner will have to arrange for repairs, and then the project will be rescheduled.
And the lesson, my children? If it wasn’t for this routine inspection by some damn government bureaucrat, that wall most likely would have collapsed on its own. It could have caused injuries or even deaths, and it would have mightily inconvenienced the building’s occupants — the Market and the apartment dwellers on the upper floors.
Instead, we should see an orderly, preventive repair.
The bureaucracy. It works.