Deliberate governmental opaqueness and obfuscation

New Orleans       It’s one thing to feel powerless in the face of government like the Chinese ophthalmologist who died of the coronavirus after being reprimanded for warning colleagues in his hospital.  Poignantly, he said, “every country needs more than one voice.”  This is why we build organizations to confront power and create change.  What do we do when governments don’t show their hands so clearly, but hide from citizens in opaqueness and obfuscation?

I thought about this reading about the deliberate way that the Department of Education under billionaire rightwing conservative Betsy DeVos is going out of its way to hide any resolution for the thousands of students who in good faith dedicated years to valuable nonprofit, public service believing in the government’s promise that they would forgive their student loans in exchange.  They were lied to by countless loan servicers and told that their particular work and service qualified, only to find later that for specious reasons DOE was rejecting their service.  Normal appeals were caught in a Catch22 with 99% rejected.

Lo and behold, it turns out that in fact there was an effective resolution mechanism, but you had to be able to stumble onto it by finding a needle in the website haystack.  A student harmed should file a complaint through the Federal Student Aid office’s feedback system on the website that routes complaints to the agency’s Ombudsman Group which will try to resolve the situation.  Once you are in the hands of the ombudsman, the success rate for resolution for the few, lucky seekers is very good.  They confirm that the promise was made and the student deceived and credit the loan as paid.  DeVos has made it clear as an investor in for profit educational scams and corporate education that she doesn’t want to forgive student loans under any condition, so this small department is the answer only if you play hide-and-seek.  Amazing!

The Department of Education certainly isn’t alone.  If you ever try to resolve a question with the Internal Revenue Service, DOE looks like rookies comparatively.  Recently, trying to sort various things out I had the opportunity to deal with one of their agents.  The rules are byzantine for any communications.  They aren’t in the 21st century, but more like a cross between the 19thand now. They will not email or answer email.  They will not respond to correspondence.  They will only accept documentation via facsimile machine.  They will not answer phone messages or return phone calls, but will blame you if and when they eventually call your cellphone, and you do not have voicemail set up as an excuse to issue penalties and more warnings by mail, even if they had not responded to your voice mail or correspondence to them – sent by fax.  They will not credit payments or explain why they will not.  They are the “Service,” as they call themselves, so shut up and pay.  At least, that’s how their lack of transparency and obfuscation feels on the receiving or query end of the process.  Don’t get me started on the difficulties of puzzling out the Federal Communications Commission and their websites for station filings, but at least they have a help line that tries to give you answers.

This isn’t “deep state,” but neither are these kinds of deliberately unresponsive and citizen-hostile bureaucratic methods and procedures worthy of a democratic country.

It also doesn’t have to be this way.  If you want a surprise, then deal with the Social Security Administration.  The website is clear and responsive.  The answers are virtually immediate.

Maybe they should run the country?  Just saying.

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