Friday, May 04, 2012

The Red Tape Horrors of the Bureaucratically Unemployed

By Alexander Marriott, 9-29-2010

As I stared at the passing scenery, I realized I hadn’t stood a chance. The cards were dealt years ago and I didn’t know it until the very moment I had anticipated success. The let down was tremendous. For those of us fighting for work in Las Vegas, there is nothing quite like the mountain of red tape and paperwork surrounding seemingly every job—particularly in the public sector. According to a recent Las Vegas Review Journal piece [], the unemployment rate in the city is 14.4%, nearly ten points beyond the 5% rate economists traditionally associate with “full employment.” The following is perhaps an idiosyncratic tale of the failed pursuit of one of those jobs. Some of the principles one might draw from it have greater relevance for not only our local economy, but for the national economy more broadly.

Over five years ago, before I left Las Vegas to pursue a graduate degree in American history, I was a substitute teacher with the Clark County School District (CCSD). It was a brief, but enjoyable experience. It was my first time in the classroom and it was very valuable in my later collegiate teaching. I left after the school year ended, fully expecting that I would probably never live in Las Vegas on any sort of permanent basis again. Life is always full of surprises.

After returning in May 2010 to finish writing my dissertation and perhaps save some money, I sat down and evaluated my employment prospects. My mind immediately returned to my old manner of employment, but to my dismay, the school year was ending and CCSD was not accepting substitute teacher applications. Several months and interviews later, early August brought a reopening of the process and I immediately submitted an application. The first part of the process was relatively quick, I was interviewed by August 16, and shortly thereafter all of my references had reported. It all went, in light of what happened later, far too easily. My previous experience was seen as the advantage that it is, and my interviewer was sufficiently impressed with my enhanced credentials (I had taught my own college level courses since leaving) that I seemed on the fast track to getting back in the classroom.

Day after day passed as I continued to look for other jobs—any jobs—and on nearly every day I checked my status with the CCSD employment website. Finally, after a month, I was informed via that website that my application had been approved as of September 20, when they mailed me their pre-employment packet. The website actually said “Pre-employment packet was mailed 9/20.” I live in Las Vegas; care to take a guess as to when it arrived? If you guessed within a week, you’d be wrong. It did not arrive until September 28—I received my transcripts from my graduate school in Massachusetts two days after my request, yet it takes over a week to receive mail within the city?

So I open the packet to begin what I know from prior experience is a small pile of additional paperwork. I also need to begin planning to purchase money orders ($60 to pay CCSD for my background check, $161 to pay the Nevada Department of Education for a new license) and other trips into various parts of the city—for a Tuberculosis test, for fingerprinting, to search for the peculiarly hidden Nevada Department of Education (NDE).

And so it begins. Oh, by the way, the letter telling me the various things I needed to do and pay to complete my application tells me that I need to finish it all within thirty days or my file will be destroyed. The letter that was mailed on September 20 and received on September 28 is dated September 17. So I have either until October 17 or October 20 to complete these tasks—the letter does not say which. On top of this, I have a previously scheduled trip to Massachusetts for dissertation business October 4-10.

Of course, the tuberculosis testing at CCSD headquarters only occurs on Tuesday mornings (I received the letter on a Tuesday afternoon, it being the second Tuesday after the issuance of the letter under either dating system, making October 12 somewhat important). So I take care of the fingerprinting/background check portion of the process first. This is rather easy. Pay your $60, waive your objections to the check, let them digitally fingerprint you and you’re done.

Now I’m off to the NDE to pay for a new license—they also need my college transcripts (I have a BA in history from UNLV and have an ABD status in the American history PhD program at Clark University), $161 money order, a completed license application, and two fingerprint cards received during the previous step. I have all of that ready to go, and after reaching the reception room (which is empty) I bound over to the receptionists to get this part of the task over with as quickly as possible.

After signing some of the materials I have brought with me pursuant to the helpful attendant’s instructions she begins to look me up in the files, noting that I had a Substitute Teaching license in the state once upon a time. Laughing, I confirm this, indicating that I had been a substitute teacher once upon a time. Then she asks me, “So, have you done your Nevada School Law and Praxis One?” I stare blankly, racking my brain for what she is referring to, this being the first time I have heard of either of these during the two months I’d been in application limbo. I respond: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, what are those?”

Now, at this point of the process, I am informed (even the woman at the NDE was surprised that no one at CCSD had bothered to mention this) that since I once had a license and it expired in 2008, there are holds that I have to clear before I can ever get another license. Praxis I is a reading, writing, and arithmetic competency examination that if taken electronically costs $80, but $90 if by the paper-based method. The Nevada School Law test is given three times a year for $25-35, while also given ad hoc the rest of the year to poor saps like me who need results quickly for $100.

Bear in mind that five years ago, when I was fresh out of UNLV, and had no experience at all, no exams were required before being turned loose on unsuspecting Vegas youths (I was 21 at the time), but now my competency needed confirmation—after five years of graduate school and college-level teaching experience. I was informed that the Praxis I exam can be waived if one has a Masters Degree. When I point out that being ABD (which means I have completed all but the dissertation) means that should I ever drop out of my PhD program they will award me a Masters degree—this is what allows me to apply for and receive University level jobs—she laments that it needs to be indicated on the transcript. Oy vey!

On top of all that, I am running out of time and money. Because in addition to everything else, I will also need to fork over $15 for an online training course before I can submit the rest of my application materials. But it is all a moot point. The Nevada School Law test, which is administered twice a month at the $100 rate, was last given on—you guessed it—September 28, the day I received the packet and the day before I found out the test existed. The next two tests are October 6 & 20—one day I will not be in town, the other is the very last day to finish all of the tasks.

This story began with the Las Vegas unemployment rate—14.4%—a rate that may very well cost all manner of politician their jobs. But, aside from the broader national and global economies, Nevadans are not helping themselves by piling on fees, tests, and endless layers of paperwork to the simple act of applying for work. If it could potentially cost me $421 just to get to the orientation (maybe!) of the process, how much must it be costing the State to pay everyone involved with processing all of my paperwork and test results and tuberculosis tests? There are many public sector jobs like this. Try applying to work with the TSA. I’ve been stuck on the airport assessment phase (step 5 out of 12) for months. When I inquired into the matter, the TSA informed me that this was normal and to just wait for an email. That was July. Still waiting. Not that I actually want to work for the TSA, it was more a curiosity application that anything else. Imagine if I were someone who really wanted a shot at that job, however.

Any politician who promises change based in adding to this unnatural and immovable leviathan—or more terrifying—applying its perversions to other even more vital parts of the economy, healthcare for instance, should be immediately hissed away from whatever lectern or podium he is hiding behind. Change in this situation, in Las Vegas, in Carson City, in Washington, can only come through getting rid of these miles upon miles of red tape. Bureaucratic regulations are grinding everything to a halt at precisely the moment we need more than ever to get back to work and be productive promptly. When we need dynamism, we are met with stifling stagnation.

The private sector can hire more quickly, but that is changing for the worse. Not only are job applications in the private sector becoming similar to their public counterparts as paperwork nightmares, but government policies have finally caught up with us. Having our cake and eating it too, all on the backs of those who could and would pay, was never tenable and certainly never moral. For those worried about the pain and scariness that will accompany the dismantling of our mixed economy—it’s too late, the pain is already here. And if you’re looking for work in Las Vegas, then you’re already scared. This Halloween, when you contemplate the future of employment in Las Vegas, you should be afraid, very afraid.