A common problem – INCOMPETENCE

Australia and the USA have many things in common. In recent years I have made a lot of comments on the commonality that exists, especially when a Marxist was in charge of our Australian government.  There are, of course, many differences, but for this essay, I am only concerned with the failures of the previous Australian government and how those failures do in fact have a lot in common with the roll out of Abominablecare in the USA. That commonality is in fact the incompetence of the people put in charge of the project. It is also an incompetence that one sees when government is in charge of such large projects.

In Australia, during the KRUDD and Gillard years there were many failures and failed projects. The BER program, which is the building education revolution was in fact a massive waste of money, mostly because the projects were being handled by government and they were content to pay more for a building project than was absolutely necessary. Most of these projects ended up as very small buildings such as a canteen, a small library, the extension of a shady outdoor area etc. etc. None of it was spent on building a new school room or anything like that.  Then there was the NBN rollout. Both projects were nothing more than a balls up… but I will come back to the issues soon. I want to divert for a moment because of something I remembered from my school years.

I attended 3 schools over time. My memory is hazy on the matter, but I am sure that St.Agnes, the primary school that I attended up to year 6 had a building program. During the time that I was at the school one class used to be held in the hall area that was behind the church.  We used to hold concerts in the building and the altar was simply closed off so that we could all fit into the area. On the Fridays though, the class that occupied the back of the building would have to stack up their desks and these were removed so that seats could take their place for Mass on Sundays.  Eventually, the parish built a new church off-site from the school. In the back of my mind, I kind of remember that there might have been a school building project to add a classroom. There was certainly plenty of room to add to the buildings as necessary. I add here that the school had a shelter shed where we ate lunch and there was another building where we used to go, especially in summer months to do our exercises.  The next school was Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Bentleigh. This was the convent where the nuns had their quarters and they used to get a taxi to the primary schools each day, except for when the assistant parish priest would go fetch them and load them up in his small vehicle (ah, the amusing memories!!).  In the two years that I was there, a building project was commenced and new classrooms were added. The school managed the chaos, and yes it was noisy and chaotic when the building was taking place. However, it was completed in a relatively short period of time and within a year we were using the new classrooms.  This was probably when building projects of this size were completed on time. My third school (the one I loved) was Presentation Convent Windsor. It was a school that went from grade preps through to Year 12 or Form 6 which was how it was named when I was at school. At the time it was a boarding school, as well as being a nunnery. I cannot remember if there had been a building project, but the senior classrooms were new.  Again any building that was completed was done on time.  These are just examples of how a project on a large but small scale can be completed on budget and on time… but that was in the 1960s.

I diverted for a reason. It suddenly hit me that school projects are better handled in a micro environment, that is everything is outsourced by the school or by a committee associated with a school. I can give another couple of examples, being renovations to the church at St. Bernadette’s Castle Hill, the building of a Church for St. Michael’s Kaleen etc. In each case the building was completed on time and within budget. However, at St. Bernadette’s when extra work was required for renovations to a school building that was to increase the capacity of a small meeting room, well it took forever (and that was after the year 200).

Between the 1960s and the year 2000 something had happened to the building industry in Australia. Something worse seemed to have happened after that time, because small projects suddenly cost millions of dollars and a lot of time to be completed.  This brings me to the B.E.R. and the NBN rollout.

I think that the something is in fact the rise in the power of the unions, especially their political power and influence. Whenever the ALP takes power in government all sorts of crazy projects are undertaken. On the State level it was the de-salination plants built at an enormous cost, and then they were put into mothballs or de-commissioned. This happened in Victoria at Wonthaggi, NSW at Kurnell, Queensland and in South Australia. In one of these examples the size of the plant was unnecessarily increased in capacity. The plant in South Australia was necessary but the increase in capacity was not necessary, plus the increase in capacity ended up as a blow out in the cost budget.

The issue, as I see it, is the incompetence of the managers chosen to oversee the projects in the first place. This kind of incompetence is related to the fact that they do not have experience to handle such projects in the first place.

Prior to the 1990s the Australian government had a department that was responsible for maintaining married quarters for the Defence Force, plus for Federal government buildings. The department became a part of the Department of Administrative Services. In that period the work force was wound down via voluntary rendundancies. When John Howard became Prime Minister the “business” was sold off. By that stage this sub-department had converted to the use of accrual accounting and it was reasonably professional.  Although I was not a part of that sub-branch of the Department of Administrative Services, I was a part of the main Department and was a part of the move towards accrual accounting.  I took a redundancy in 1996 because I had moved to Sydney and could not get other Public Service work. It was not for any other reason such as incompetence. For that reason I do not know if the Public Service had continued down the road of accrual accounting or if that was stopped when DAS was disbanded under the new government of John Howard, or if it was discontinued when KRUDD came to power.

I do suspect that accrual accounting was abandoned by KRUDD if it had not been discontinued by the Howard government. Accrual Accounting in government was a novelty. It also meant that government departments were held accountable for their spending on major projects. Without accrual accounting projects such as the NBN did not show up in the books. This is a whole area of contention and I would need to do a lot of research to try and discover what accounting methods were put in place to try and hide the cost blowouts of the NBN project.

The people handling the NBN rollout were incompetent. The work was not on time, and there were many pitfalls. It has been reported that there had been a failure to pay some sub-contractors. This is on top of all sorts of incompetence at the top of the NBN company tree. The incompetence lays at the hands of Senator Stephen Conroy and Kevin Rudd who had the thought bubble that led to this project being implemented without putting in place any kind of project goals or business plan. When challenged, the challenge was shrugged off. When criticized, well Stephen Conroy simply went ballistic.  We will learn soon enough the actual level of this incompetence. If the project is to continue, then sweeping changes are needed from the top down. What is most important though, is to find someone with the competence to be a good project manager who can make the necessary changes so that the rollout can continue within budget.  My view here is that an accounting system also needs to be designed so that everything becomes transparent and that government is held accountable for the expenditure on the project. That accounting system needs to be accrual, and not the usual government accounting model.

What has this got to do with Abominablecare? If you have not guessed where I am heading, then you need to read up on the balls-up that has occurred relating to the government website. The whole project should be put on hold until the problems are fixed. I have one question – why was this a balls-up in the first place? Personally, I would point the finger at Sebelius because ultimately she is in charge of implementation and she does not have the competence to put all of the pieces together. The IT implementation has been an absolute balls-up and people do suspect that no testing was done before it went live… well, I have another story to tell….

The company name was DATAFLOW, and it was a software and hardware distribution company. My view of the company is that it relied too much on one retailer and it gave into the demands of this one retailer which ultimately meant that the company was being screwed. However, there were other issues because during my time in the company, it was decided that they had to upgrade their computer software, not just the distribution side, but the accounting side as well. People were chosen to help make the choice between products. The owner of the company wanted to go with one particular product but the team chose software that was largely an untested product with industry. In hindsight and only because I got to work with the other package, I think that the owner’s instincts were correct and that the team who chose the other product were wrong.  The product went live and the distribution side of the business fell over immediately. This was on top of a move from one location to another. Within months of moving to the new system and to a new location because the business had been growing, the company went into liquidation.  The lesson here is that the product itself was largely untested in the open market and this was a major cause for the failure of the company. On the other hand I do suspect that the reliance of business from this large retailer also had a major impact that the owner had failed to address when he allowed all the discounts etc. to be given, which only led to further demands.  In the end it was the incompetence of those who were implementing a new system that led to the ulitmate failure of the company. There were probably other reasons for the company failure, but having worked in the company, this is how I see the lead up to the ultimate ending of liquidation.

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