Ground Clutter

March 3, 2006
Every time I get to feeling a bit sympathetic toward the guvmint, they turn me off again. A friend changed his address, so he contacted the guvmint about getting a new pilot certificate. He got back a letter that we never could quite figure out.

One thing, however, was perfectly clear: The guvmint charges $2 for a new certificate. This is the same guvmint that wants to change the funding system to get more money. They say the current system just ain’t working. Yet they are charging $2 for a new certificate, and they write you a letter telling you how to pay that $2. According to every accounting I’ve ever seen, it costs more than $2 just to send that letter.

Ask yourself: How much more than $2 would you pay for a new certificate without even blinking. $5? $10? More? So, how come the guvmint doesn’t raise the price by some multiple of $2? “Thereby,” as the Bard himself said, “hangs a tale.”

Back in the early 1980s I had to get a new ‘N’ number for an airplane. I sent in the proper guvmint form to the FAA in Oklahoma City. The form never came back, though I begged and pleaded for many moons. Finally, in sheer frustration, I asked the fellow in OK City for the name of his supervisor. He curtly answered. “I haven’t got one, buddy, you’ll have to call the White House.” (That’s a direct quote. I’ll never forget it.)

I was, as my mother would have said, “fit to be tied.” I didn’t know anybody in the White House, but I did know the FAA Administrator, J. Lynn Helms. He didn’t know me, necessarily, but he had been head honcho of Piper Aircraft and I had met him at distributor and dealer meetings. That wasn’t much to go on, but it was a lot closer than I had ever gotten to the White House.

I called J. Lynn Helms. I never got him on the phone but did get a fellow who promised me that the fellow in OK City “has several supervisors and I,” he said, “am one of them.” Before noon of that day, OK City had telegraphed me permission to change the ‘N’ number. Then, so help me, the fellow in Washington called to ask me if it had arrived. I thanked him profusely.

Then he ruined it. He explained that what I didn’t understand is that OK City “just doesn’t have the budget to hire enough people to get the job done.” Well, I just had to ask about the fees: “Listen, OK City charges $5 to register an airplane. If they haven’t got enough money to do their job, why don’t they charge $20 or $50, and then use the extra money to hire more people?” “Well,” sez he, “what you don’t understand is that the extra money wouldn’t go to OK City, but to Washington. It wouldn’t change OK City’s budget at all.”

He pondered my ensuing rage for a moment, then sighed. “Okay, I’ll quit talking before you get mad again.”

I ask you, can you imagine Wal-Mart losing money on a $2 item that is so much in demand that they can’t keep it on the shelf? Of course not. Only a guvmint would do that. No wonder they’re in need of money. Ask yourself: Do you really think a new tax scheme would solve their problems? I don’t. I gotta admit they were getting to me with that stuff about more user fees, but I have rethought that. Let’s don’t change a thing until they figure out the basic relationships involving supply, demand, and costs.