Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Policy Sleuthing

(After the last few days, it's nice to focus on something else again.)

I just finished another go-round of policy sleuthing. It usually works like this:

A: So it's settled. We'll implement policy x this Fall. Good job, everyone!

B: Wait a minute. Isn't there rule y that forbids implementing something like policy x unless it's a leap year?

A: Really?

C: Yeah, I remember that. Did that pass the Senate?

B: I think so. Remember that huge fight?

D: I still have nightmares about it.

A: (sigh) So can we get a copy of rule y?

B,C,D: (silence)

A: Who would have a copy?

C: I think H might.

(later that week)

A: H, do you have a copy of rule y?

H: Why would I have that?

A: Uh, didn't it pass the Senate?

H: No, that came out of the VP's office. Try that.

(still later)

A: Do you have a copy of rule y?

VP: Rule what?

A: Rule y. The one that forbids implementing something like policy x unless it's a leap year.

VP: (chuckling) Nooooo...

A: Well is there a rule y?

VP: I've never heard of it.

And so it goes. I've seen it before, but somehow, it surprises me every time.

(This is part of why I'm skeptical of many conspiracy theories. They assume a tightness of ship that often just isn't there.)

Over the years, policy sleuthing has led to any number of results. Sometimes the alleged rule actually does exist, but has been intermittently ignored over the years. Sometimes it exists, but in a much narrower form than recently claimed. Sometimes it was proposed but defeated, or proposed but tabled. And sometimes there's just no discernible trace, even though multiple people swear up and down that they remember something about it from several years ago, usually involving somebody pitching a fit.
(The really puzzling part is that the alleged rule is often not in the interest of the person recalling it. So I can't just write it off to wishful thinking or strategic lying.)

I've become a little bolder over the last few years, increasingly calling for a copy of the alleged rule in writing. Sometimes that works, but the ghosts of 'past practice' can be hard to exorcise.

Wise and worldly readers – have you had any particularly weird experiences of policy sleuthing? I'd like to think I'm not alone in this...