The Iron Rule Of Bureaucracy
Megan McArdle writes today about her recent run-in with the TSAÂ and demonstrates exceedingly clearly just how blind bureaucrats are to the idoicy of the rules they make:
I’ve been in California this weekend, and during that time, I bought a few little sample bottles of shampoo and conditioner that I did not use. So why not take them back with me?
Alas, I had not reckoned with the awesome investigative powers of our Transportation Safety Authority, which pulled my bag off the security conveyor belt faster than you can say “ridiculous application of silly rules”. The offense? The shampoo and conditioner were under the 3.5 ounce limit, but they were not in a plastic ziploc bag.
I offered to put them in a non ziploc bag. No dice. Apparently, only clear plastic bags with a zipper are good enough for Our Girls in Blue. You can always reason with the people at security. You can always reason with your wall, too, and you’ll get about as far as I did. In vain did I explain that the direction to put your belongings in a clear plastic ziploc bag was to make them easy to pull out of your bag and inspect, not because the items represent some independent security threat unless they are enclosed in a baggy.
“They have to be in a ziploc bag,” said the nice security lady.
“What do you think the bag adds?” I asked. “Do you think that the air pressure differential will keep me from opening a ziploc baggy in flight?”
“They have to be in a ziploc bag,” she repeated.
And why ? Because that’s what the rules that have been drilled into her say. Does it matter that the rules make no sense ? Does it matter that there isn’t any functional difference between having the shampoo bottles in a ziploc bag and having them in a non-ziploc plastic bag ? No, because the rules say ziploc.
James Joyner makes this point:
As asinine as TSA regulations are, however â€” and they are incredibly asinine, by the way â€” Iâ€™m with the commenters who argue against requiring TSA agents to make a lot of decisions. This necessarily requires inflexible and mindless application of seemingly arbitrary rules. Standardization is the essence of bureaucracy.
Which, I would argue, is precsiely what is wrong with bureaucracy.