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Bureaucrats and Technology - not a marriage made in heaven

GRAND ISLE, LA - JULY 7: Oil cleanup workers
GRAND ISLE, LA - JULY 7: Oil cleanup workers
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Now that the World Cup is safely over it seems that it would be timely to consider some of the things that went wrong in it. Of course, what goes wrong in a sporting event is often a function of which team you are supporting, but it does seem that there are at least three fairly significant errors that occurred during the tournament. Of these, two could be easily addressed by the use of technology with little or no disruption.

The first error to occur is likely not easily addressed by technology. This was the goal that was denied to the US in their match against Slovenia by what could be generously termed a "strange" call by the referee (Koman Coulibaly from Mali) who called a foul against the US for no (apparent) reason. Lest those of us who are not enamored of soccer get too pleased by this obvious case of appalling officiating error, let's not forget that earlier this summer a perfect game (of baseball) was blown by poor officiating! These things happen...

However, the two other major goofs could have been prevented by the use of technology. The first was the (again disallowed) goal that England scored against Germany just before half time that would have tied the game at 2-2. The ball clearly bounced some two feet behind the goal line, but no goal was awarded. The use of replay would have made the call obvious, but until now replay has not been part of the World Cup. The second major goof was an offside goal scored by Argentina against Mexico, which allowed Argentina to take a 1-0 lead. The scoring player was clearly offside, and again had replay been available the goof would have been corrected.

But, it appears that the powers that be in soccer (FIFA) were concerned that the use of replay would somehow detract from the character of the game. This is a typically bureaucratic response to technology. And it is easy to see why bureaucrats would have such a response.

Technological innovations are, perhaps by their very nature, disruptive of the status quo. They are meant to change the way we do things. This means that they mess up any carefully developed procedures and processes that have been put in place by bureaucrats. And bureaucrats do not like their processes and procedures being messed up.

A case in point would appear to be the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Since the spill began there have been numerous articles about rules and regulations getting in the way of cleaning up the oil spill. One of the most enraging was the time when spill cleaning vessels were kept in port by the Coastguard because they did not have the right number of life jackets. There have also been reports of skimming vessels being prohibited from operation because when they discharge the mostly cleaned water (from which they have removed the oil) the discharged water did not meet the standards for cleanliness of discharges from vessels in the Gulf under normal operations. There appear to have been a number of other barriers to use of technology in response to the spill.

Why does this happen? It would have been the easiest thing in the world for someone in the Coastguard or the EPA to say something like: "this regulation is waived due to the current emergency." Why did this not happen? Because whoever said this would have to be responsible for their actions, and bureaucracies exist to ensure that the bureaucrats do not have to take responsibility. However, even the most risk averse bureaucrat could have bumped the need for a waiver up the line - surely executive orders could have handled these difficulties and have done so inside of 24 hours? Perhaps though we are in a situation where it is bureaucrats all the way up - maybe we don't have an executive in the White House, just someone who votes present - i.e. a bureaucrat?

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