The Warnick Theory of Perverse Government Tangents: Those of us who have been in Government a long time, note that, repeatedly, Government goes off on perverse tangents. Perverse tangents are tasks that Government line organizations are directed to pursue at all costs and under tremendous pressure, independent of any real need or benefit. Such benefit, if it exists at all, is typically tiny.
For example, for many organizations like mine, the Y2K effort was such a perverse tangent, as all of our software used four digit year codes, so that Y2K problems, which were caused by software that used two digit year codes, were unimaginable for us. Despite this fact, we were directed to devote large resources to show the obvious--we did not have a Y2K problem. The Warnick Theory of Perverse Government Tangents explains how such perverse tangents are created and grow. The Theory involves five stages. 1)In response to a concern that has some tiny germ of truth, a top leader appoints an overseer to deal with the issue, 2) To justify his existence, the overseer finds some procedural pretext to lambaste line organizations, 3) To make it appear that the overseer is pursuing a remedy rather than simply criticizing, the overseer institutes new procedures that in no real way improve the root concern, 4) To make it appear that the new procedures have worked, the overseer declares the root problem solved when the new procedures are implemented by the line organizations, and 5) The overseer receives large monetary awards. When discussing aspects of the Theory in I/O or Public Choice circles, one should speak of Warnickian motives, Warnickian overseers, Warnickian remedies, and Warnickian awards. While it may appear that the Warnick Theory of Perverse Government Tangents has thus been born full grown, it is nevertheless recognized that improvements or amplifications may be possible. They are welcome. Walt Warnick