The Veteran Affairs Bureaucracy: High Pay With Fake Duties Warps the Human Soul

What happens when you overpay people to do very little—or worse, when you give them an official task that is impossible but expect them to earn their money by faking it? The evidence suggests that they become a more wicked and degraded version of themselves. People who are rewarded for non-productivity become warped and anti-social.

According to the New York Times the initial media story has been confirmed by the VA Inspector General:

…at least 1,700 veterans at the agency’s medical center in Phoenix were not registered on the proper waiting list to see doctors, creating a serious condition that means veterans “continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost” in the convoluted scheduling process.

All the while, the hospital falsely reported waiting times that suggested delays were minimal, the report said.


“While our work is not complete, we have substantiated that significant delays in access to care negatively impacted the quality of care at this medical facility,” Richard J. Griffin, the acting inspector general for the department, said in an interim report on his investigation into the Phoenix medical center.

Worse, we have at least initial confirmation of what I wrote when the story broke: there is no way that this is only happening in one VA hostpital:

Mr. Griffin, whose office is now investigating dozens of Veterans Affairs medical facilities across the country, said he believed that “inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic throughout” the veterans’ health care system.

So, for all we know, Phoenix may not be the worst case. There may be more than 1,700 people kept of the waiting list at each of several hospitals.

But even though I’m glad for the confirmation, that is not what I find most fascinating. What I find most fascinating is this paragraph from CNN describing other findings in the report:

The report also found “numerous allegations” of “daily mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers.”

Perhaps all of this anti-social behavior can be explained by what kind of people get attracted to government jobs. But I suspect that there is another force at work here. People are meant to be productive. Pay them for nothing more than covering up the fact that they can’t really do the job their officially supposed to do, and you will warp their personalities. Everyone thinks he wants a highly-paid job that doesn’t require much work. But that’s actually the path to self-ruin. What people need is an important job to do and a reason to do it well.

Everything important was missing from this position, except the high pay (and the high bonuses for pretending to meet expectations by serving veterans). The job was petty and the people doing the job seem to have become petty, shallow, and vindictive.