Lean Six Sigma
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By Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Cattlemans corner Austin Snedden
Austin Snedden

OPINION: Judicious businesses are regularly evaluating whether the things they are spending time and money on are providing the results they desire. Performance reviews are often an uncomfortable but necessary part of productivity. For performance reviews to be effective, they must be accompanied by the possibility that a project, position, or employee can be eliminated. Without the prospect of these outcomes, inefficiency can grow. Knowing only private business growing up on the ranch, I was always aware that weather conditions could mean a downsize or that market conditions could result in reduced revenue. It wasn’t until I was older and began to analyze the bureaucracies that looked to regulate or tax our business that I realized that government was, for the most part, immune to the most natural economic principles that direct the rest of us to be effective. 

This lack of governmental accountability became clear to me when a county administrator told me the County was adopting a trendy private sector efficiency tool called “Lean Six Sigma” (not to be confused with the burdensome SGMA all of us in California agriculture are familiar with). The general concept of this efficiency tool is to streamline processes, eliminate waste, and lower costs. Knowing that employee costs are by far the biggest cost of government, I asked the administrator if this policy would result in the elimination of positions or government employees. Paraphrasing his response, he explained that, no, we can’t really eliminate positions or employees due to union rules. I realized that without the ability to address the costliest part of government, the adoption of a catchy phrase to portray efficiency was for the most part bull excrement, and this is coming from someone trained in the field of spotting bull excrement. It should draw to our attention that we need to be very aggressive fighting government growth because bureaucrats and officials lack the ability or will to rein it in. 

What if we could set politics aside and just analyze burdensome government programs based on their effectiveness of executing their intended purpose? This is an article not a book so I will just use some examples, and I am sure any reader that has dipped their toe in agriculture or any private sector business could come up with a long list of government bureaucracies or regulations that, besides being burdensome and costly, have showed epic failure measured against their intended purpose. 

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has to lead the charge based on lack of effectiveness coupled with the draconian burden and cost it has placed on society. Anything from government take of private property, to hobbling of almost every industry, to outsourcing production, to increased costs to producers and consumers has been excused based on the ESA. Let’s set aside politics, natural human desires for food, shelter, and travel, and just focus on the effectiveness of the ESA based on its intended purpose. The ESA was enacted in 1973, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the bureaucracy that administers the ESA, the purpose is “to protect and recover imperiled species.” There have been 2,400 species listed under the act, 54 species have been removed based on “recovery,” and 23 species have been removed due to extinction. “Recovery” being a critical part of the purpose of the act, lets subtract the 23 that failed from the 54 recovered and you are left with 31 of the 2,400 species. In the just under 50 years of existence of the ESA, the act has resulted in a 1.3% return on investment when it comes to the goal of recovering species, or a 0.0003% success rate annually. Set aside my conservative values and set aside the radical environmentalist’s values and just judge the ESA on effectiveness. There are absolutely zero projects or jobs that would survive in the private sector boasting the ineffectiveness of the ESA. 

The list goes on and on. 20 years of climate change regulation and we still have supposed man made climate change. 35 years of the Beef checkoff to promote beef, harvesting $43 million from producers annually, and we have less cattleman and reduced per-capita beef consumption. Lockdowns to stop a virus, and we still have a virus. Local governments using tax dollars to “address homelessness,” and we still have more vagrants. 

How about we set politics and emotions to the side and just analyze effectiveness. We can’t place a financial and regulatory burden on everyone’s freedom with no metric for success. I think government is big enough already, but to all of you who look to solve future problems through creation of more government, let’s put sunsets on every program and metrics for success so if they don’t succeed, they can join the scrap heap of failures, and stop the government practice of funding the scrap heap in perpetuity.