Short Term Thinking Can Be Deadly

No doubt the new administration’s announcement of a hiring freeze for government employees is popular with many. It is to remain in effect, apparently, until the government workforce declines “sufficiently.”

I was recruited to be a Foreign Service Officer by the U.S. Department of State in 1990 after an earlier hiring freeze was lifted.

Part of my job in U.S. missions overseas was the processing of requests for temporary visas to visit the United States. Citizens of other countries apply by the millions to travel to the U.S. for tourism, business, and study as well as for more specialized interests like investment. After the hiring freeze, visa interviewers were understaffed.

During the summer of 2001, the visa section of the embassy in the country where I worked sometimes processed seven or eight hundred visas a day. Just two officers were available to interview and approve or reject their travel to the U.S. Obviously, they had minimal time for careful interviewing.

Around this time, nineteen young men received visas, the majority of them from the country where I worked, to study at flight schools in the United States. These young men later hijacked airliners and plowed them into the World Trade towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. Another crashed in Pennsylvania due to heroic actions of passengers on the plane.

Hurried processing may have contributed to those visas, though other factors certainly played a part. Anyone not closely associated with visa processing has difficulty understanding the toll exacted by too few workers for the jobs assigned.

The same is true for many government agencies that protect us at home as well as overseas. Sometime deadly results only show up years later.

I suppose the country saved money from fewer government employees that summer of 2001, though.

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