This case of the lone air traffic controller falling asleep during the overnight shift at Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C. is a perfect example of how the size and cost of government grow. The transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, a Republican, has responded by directing, as the New York Times reports it, "that a second controller be on duty during the overnight shift at the Washington airport."
Am I the only one to see the humor in this? (It's humorous until you have the pay the taxes for it.) In the private sector, you'd fire the guy who fell asleep and replace him with one who will stay awake. Or you'd develop a software program that makes the air traffic controller answer a question or push a button every ten minutes, with failing to do so triggering a loud alarm clock or dumping a bucket of ice water on the employee's head. Or you'd replace the air-traffic-controller company with a competing one that did a better job of keeping its employees awake. Or you'd have the night cleaning crew and the night watchman/security guard check in on the air traffic controller periodically to make sure he is awake.
In the government, there is no competition. The Federal Aviation Administration runs the control towers. It doesn't have to worry about being replaced with a competitor. And when one of its employees falls asleep on the job, the reward for the FAA is that its number of staff and budget for the job (a rough Washington equivalent to power) double. The reward for failure in a bureaucracy is that the agency's budget and staff increase.
Prediction: Sometime in the next ten years, there will be either a) a case in which both air traffic controllers fall asleep, which will be met by a Department of Transportation order that there be three air traffic controllers on duty at all times b) a sexual harassment complaint by one of the overnight air traffic controllers against the other air traffic controller, which will be met by a Department of Transportation order that the two air traffic controllers be accompanied by a chaperone/legal counsel c) a discovery that 100% of the air traffic controllers on duty during some overnight shifts in the tower are white or male, which will be met by a Department of Transportation order that the two air traffic controllers be accompanied by an equal opportunity/affirmative action officer d) a report of terrorist "chatter" about a plot aimed at the control tower, which will be met by a Department of Transportation order that the two air traffic controllers be accompanied by a security team from the Department of Homeland Security or e) suspicions that the two overnight air traffic controllers are stealing money from the vending machine, which will be met by a Department of Transportation order that the two air traffic controllers be accompanied by someone from the internal audit department.
So the one overnight air traffic controller all of a sudden becomes three air traffic controllers accompanied by chaperone/legal counsel, equal opportunity/affirmative action officer, security team, and internal auditor. You think I'm kidding? Go look at the FAA organizational chart.
I'm not saying this doesn't ever happen in the private sector. General Motors got pretty bloated, too. But it's worse in government.