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The California Department of Motor Vehicles is a massive bureaucracy whose legendary inefficiency is on the increase but which some pundits see as a model for government monopoly health care. Mariam Noujaim works for the DMV and is a member of the 2.1 million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the more powerful government employee unions, with members in “virtually every nook and cranny” of state government, as the Sacramento Bee noted in a front-page story about Mariam Noujaim’s current tangle.
A tunnel connects two DMV buildings in Sacramento and the street between them is lightly traveled. Yet the state of California pays for a crossing guard there. Noujaim saw this as wasteful spending and set out to do something about it.
“I really believe we can help solve our crisis by spending our money on monitoring the waste rather than bribing political and special interest (groups),” she wrote in an email to her union. She quickly discovered that the SEIU has no interest in ferreting out government waste.
“The only special interests we have are the members’ jobs and pension,” wrote SEIU field rep Ted Burnett in an email. “Why don’t you let us use your zeal to fight the system in a good way,” Burnett added, by questioning why the state spends billions of dollars on contracts for services that state workers could provide. In the SEIU vision the state is a massive employment agency and should hire as many people as possible, whatever the need or cost. Government employee unions should perform virtually all services and anything the state puts out to bid amounts to waste.
Governor Pete Wilson put the cleaning of government buildings out to contract. Governor Gray Davis ended that practice and had government employees do the job, at approximately double the cost. The state of California once hired employees to run automatic elevators in the Capitol. And the state needlessly pays for crossing guards. In such conditions things are tough for those who seek to expose waste and corruption. Indeed, whistleblowers can easily find themselves punished rather than rewarded.
Mariam Noujaim is learning that government employee unions are promoters and protectors of waste. And the SEIU is also fighting her efforts to find out how union bosses spend the money they take directly from workers’ paychecks, with government approval.