Yang: A Fantasy Revisited – This One Involves Goats And Bureaucracy

Los Alamos

Author’s note: It’s time for me to draw to closure of my column for the LA Daily Post. I have a few fond memories to share. For this week, it’s one of my favorite fantasy pieces, first appeared about two years ago. And since this is a fantasy, let’s pretend that you don’t know where I live and what organization I refer to in this post.

A nearby community college recently purchased two goats, mother and kid, to handle the landscape maintenance on their 60+ acre campus. The groundskeeper could not keep up with the invasive trees, shrubs, and weeds. He didn’t want to use herbicides for fear of contaminating the surface water. While the president of the college was unaccustomed to farm animals – he’s from a major city – he decided to approve the plan. Since the arrival of mother and kid, the grounds have been cleaned out a lot and the goats are happy. They live in an enclosed area during the night and munch away during the day. This sounds like a win-win solution.

A friend jokingly suggested that our local big scientific organization should consider such an intelligent plan. This organization (let’s call it TB for The Blackhole) has been tying itself into multiple interconnected pretzels for the past few years with rules and regulations and then some. You can barely sneeze without needing an approval first. So, here is the scenario that popped into my head.

To employ two goats, TB first has to conduct a study on these alien beings. To properly conduct such a study, a call for proposals has to be written up. A committed is assembled to write this unique call. Then, another committee has to be assembled to examine all proposals. When all’s done, it’d take about nine months before the study can finally commence.  

During the study, yet another oversight committee has to be formed to ensure that money is properly allocated and no harm will ever be inflicted upon the animals. (The Animal Subject Committee declined to review this plan.) During the waiting period — turning proposal to actual study — the animals’ diet has to be scrutinized for proper quantities and nutrients, and whether adequate exercise can be achieved without excessive infringement upon the organization’s property. Let’s not get into the question of who has to look after the goats for now; that involves other sets of procedures.

Assuming the study concludes with the recommendations that the animals be allowed to roam in designated areas for a trial period, the unfortunate groundskeepers (you cannot conduct such innovative work with only one person) will have to produce an IWD (Integrated Work Document) for every procedure involved: When do goats clock in in the morning?  What area on which day will be covered?  

Is this area likely to have contaminants in the ground? And here is the biggie: Define milestones. Will the goats have enough, too much, or too little in a day? A week? A month?  Where is the overnight enclosure? Is it safe (intruders, bears, mountain lions)? Do the fences meet the safety standards? If not, who’s in charge of inspection and maintenance? (There needs to be coordination.) What if the goats get spooked by coyotes’ howls during the night? Is there an emergency contact for such unforeseeable event? (Who decides if this is an emergency and takes up all the following steps? Don’t go there.) My imagination is limited, but I am sure the bureaucratic apparatus can conjure up many more questions to be covered.

Do all works at TB need an IWD? Only if the work is low hazard does this requirement not apply. How do you define low hazard? I have no doubt there is a fancy algorithm to guide that decision. Since the presence of goats would be too novel, let’s be safe and require an IWD.  

Between keeping an eye on the goats, filling the IWD forms, and filing for occasional purchases orders (collars with bells, vet visits, etc) that take weeks to clear, the groundskeepers might look away for too many minutes, and one of the goats step into a crevice and breaks a leg.  Obviously, someone did not check the ground thoroughly. Now, we need to call for a “Critique” to assess what has gone wrong, what lessons we can learn from the incident, and what punishment (the injured goat? The uninjured goat? Or the groundskeepers?) is appropriate.  

One of the groundskeepers has had enough and manages to transfer to a different job (if he’s resourceful, he quits TB). So now, the “unit” has to hire a replacement. They need to post the job, and this posting has to be approved by the Committee of Grand Poobahs (CGP). Then, there needs to be a search committee followed by a few rounds of interviews. If all goes well (no need for town hall meeting for a low level job), the hiring decision goes back to CGP for approval…assuming the HR person doesn’t screw up the paperwork for CGP (and if HR misses this round, the approval has to wait till the next time when the CGP meets again, and while we wait for the CGP’s blessing, all operations have to continue). This all may take another six months, and in the meantime, the short-staffed groundskeepers struggle to keep up with the goats and pray that no further mishaps take place.

You think I am kidding?

At least half of the TB people deal with such scenarios regularly. And the management reviews IWDs, purchase requests, hiring requests…, and the CGP approves/disapproves everything.   

This is only funny when it applies to goats.  

In the meantime, University of California Berkeley Laboratory uses – I kid you not – “Goats R Us” outfit periodically to control the weeds. And they don’t get just a pair of goats; they get a truckload. See the film clip (link here) or view the pictures (link here); it is a hoot.  

Now, I wonder if UC Berkeley Lab requires IWD for such a large operation?

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com.