The Misguided Art of Government BS

On Fox 5 morning news this morning, a reporter interviewed the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) chief engineer about bridge safety, in light of the apparently-spontaneous Interstate bridge collapse yesterday in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that killed at least four and injured more than 60 commuters. The reporter asked (paraphrased), ‘Given the Minneapolis bridge was inspected in 2005 and 2006, should we be worried about the validity of our bridge inspections?’ The useless reply from VDOT was (also paraphrased), ‘We inspect over 11,000 bridges in Virginia annually, and our inspection process is reviewed by the federal government. Bridges in Virginia are safe.’

Feel better, Virginians? You’re protected by the same kind of federally-reviewed bridge inspection program that may have just dumped 50+ cars into the Mississippi River. The Fox 5 interviewer should have pried deeper for a real answer, but didn’t. A good followup question would have been, ‘But wouldn’t Minnesota officials have said the same thing two days ago?’

As is often the case, VDOT’s chief engineer should have stuck to straightforward, active honesty rather than a meaningless layer of governmental double-talk that your average 4th grader could see right through. A better answer would have been:

“We don’t know yet, as the investigation of the disaster in Minnesota is just getting started. We are watching very closely for the outcome of that investigation, and if it finds deficiencies in the bridge inspection procedures used nationwide we will immediately repair those deficiencies and re-inspect our bridges as-necessary. We are committed to preventing this kind of tragedy in Virginia, so as a precautionary measure we are re-inspecting all bridges of similar age and construction to the collapsed Minneapolis bridge. We expect to have those precautionary inspections complete within X weeks.”

Was that so hard?

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.