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Why Is the Government So Fond of Batching?

I recently read an article about the debate over the number of H-1B visas being offered. What was interesting to me was not the immigration issue, but rather the customer service issue. Apparently, the system creates a batch process. There is a filing deadline, and companies are required to turn in applications by April 1, or they risk losing out on getting approval.

That means several things. First, it means that employers have to make hiring decisions with imperfect information, or at a sub-optimal time. They have to speculate what their needs will be the following January, or they have to hire someone 6 month before their project starts.

Similarly, it means that the applicant has to know up to a year in advance. If there is problem with availability, say for a sick relative, they can lose out on an opportunity for up to a year.

Finally, it must be a challenge for the governing body that reviews the applications to receive a wave of applications. They undoubtedly sit in a queue for days or weeks or even months on end. And it means that the people reviewing the applications either stop doing other work during the crush, or they are underutilized the rest of the year. They also probably have to relearn their processes each year after being idle for months on end.

Switching to monthly quotas would spread the work out and open up more options for both applicants and the companies hiring them. It would also make it far easier to manage the process.

And you know what? This batching process isn’t even the big one. Every year around this time I feel for the workers at the IRS. It is undoubtedly the biggest batch process in the US. A couple hundred million documents all turned in on the same day.

This sort of thing is one of the biggest black eyes that government services face. No company would ever be able to thrive with similar practices. Imagine if florists told you that the window for ordering flowers was just in the first week of June. Imagine if you were told you could only buy a home on November 12th, and that it would take up to 6 months to close. Imagine if you had to apply for this year’s movie tickets in January. None of those businesses would thrive. The competition would eat them for lunch. But, the government has no competition to make them more effective.

The funny thing, though, is that reducing batching would actually make governmental costs go down. I have been hearing more rumblings about Lean government lately, though. Looking forward to seeing what that brings.


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