30
Sep
11

“I’m from the government…”

“…and I’ll be here to help you next week, when it counts towards my bonus.  This week, you can starve for all I care.”

Greg Mankiw points us to this tidbit:

Social Security judges and employees in Florida, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and Arizona were among those instructed to set aside disability cases this week, with the slowdown allowing managers to boost their performance numbers for the coming fiscal year, which starts Monday.

Top officials, in a bid to meet goals to win promotions or thousands of dollars in bonuses, directed many employees to refrain from issuing decisions on cases until next week, according to judges and union officials. This likely would delay benefits paid to thousands of Americans with pending applications, many of whom are financially needy and have waited for a government decision for more than a year.

The directive stemmed from a wrinkle in the federal calendar, in which this week fell between the federal government’s 2011 and 2012 fiscal years. This happens every five or six years, as officials are allowed to count just 52 weeks in their calendar. Counting this week would make the current fiscal year 53 weeks long. That meant any applications for disability benefits completed between Monday and Friday wouldn’t count toward the annual numerical targets set for Social Security judges or field offices.

Earlier this week, Arnold Kling nailed the underlying principle:

When a remote authority sets incentives, people respond by manipulating the system. This fact is poorly understood by education reformers who are fond of pay-for-performance and national standards, by health care reformers who are fond of paying for quality, and by financial regulators.

(Emphasis added.)

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