Government Shutdown is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing if You Only Own a Blue Pen

October 8th, 2013

Last Monday, I genuinely felt a twinge of concern over the then proposed partial shutdown of the federal government.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the importance of many functions of the federal government, but thankfully they aren’t being affected right now.  That’s because they are deemed “essential” which begs the question of why we don’t just save money by cutting all the “nonessential” positions because by definition they’re just icing on the cake and right now we clearly can’t afford such luxuries.

Still, last Monday, I did feel apprehensive about what might happen when the federal government quit operating business as usual.

That’s until I went to the Post Office with my youngest child to get his passport renewed.

We chose to go to a location that didn’t require an appointment.  That was our first mistake.  So we arrived at the Post Office an hour and a half before closing and were immediately instructed to stand in an area marked off by red tape on the floor so we would be out of the way of other postal customers.

After a good fifteen minutes, we were informed that someone would be out to help us ten or fifteen minutes later.  Not surprisingly, the estimated time ran closer to a good twenty minutes.

Finally, a very nice postal employee ushered us over to his counter for passport processing.

He took one look at our form and shook his head.

“This form is supposed to be printed in black ink,” he told us, “Someone has written over blue ink with black ink.”

That “someone” happened to be me.  After I’d finished the form, I noticed the instruction about black ink, so I just traced over the blue letters with black ink.

“You submit this form at your own risk,” he informed us, “I’m afraid it will be rejected because of the blue ink.”

“Seriously?” I replied.  “You can barely see the blue ink.”

“Ma’am,” he answered in a very serious tone, “I can see it here and here and here and here.”  He used his pen like a laser pointer to show me each of the five locations where blue ink was visible.

“I’m just making sure you are aware of this so you recognize the risk,” he explained putting emphasis on the word “risk” and trying (I guess) to keep me from blowing a fuse.

If I was your ordinary American citizen, I might have done just that.  I might have grown exasperated by the completely idiotic bureaucratic nonsense that a form could be rejected because it was supposed to be written in black ink but where blue ink (gasp) shown through.

But I’m not an ordinary citizen.  For your many years, I practiced administrative law before several federal government agencies.  I know the Code of Federal Regulation like the back of my hand (okay—that’s an exaggeration—but I know how to find all kinds of obscure rules you probably didn’t even know exist). I also practiced law for a while in Washington, D.C., the mother ship of all federal laws and regulations.

That experience and knowledge clearly taught me one thing.

Somewhere in Washington is a bureaucrat with an extremely long title that looks very impressive on the doorplate and business card. That title can be summed up in the following job description:

Person Responsible for Making Sure Forms are in Black Ink

I had to agree with the postal official.  If I turned this form in with traces of blue ink, I could get busted.  I would make this person’s day.  Because I have a natural distaste for pointless bureaucratic nonsense, the last thing I wanted to do is please a bureaucrat whose sole joy in life is probably finding forms printed in colors other than black. I knew that finding one where someone clearly was trying to pull a fast one would be particularly exciting for this person.

So I sat down and copied the whole #*@*# form all over again in BLACK ink.

Somewhere today that person is furloughed I bet because deciding if forms are in blue or black ink can’t possibly be essential—even in Washington.  While I may lament some parts of this government shutdown (like World War II veterans having to break in to see the World War II Memorial), I do not miss the Person Responsible for Making Sure Forms are in Black Ink.

Not one bit.