Scripps-Howard News Service 1.07.03
Few if any have something good to say about the services of the
District of Columbia, and who could blame them? Our roadways are
a national scandal, repair projects are begun but seem never to
be completed, paperwork is lost in the various offices more often
than not. And attempts at getting help over the phone fail much
of the time because the person who answers won't even bother to
speak at a level that can be understood.
All the more reason to report about my experiences with the emergency
services. I never thought I would have as many opportunities to
meet them as the last year produced, but one does not see the future
- a wonderful arrangement.
So, for those fortunate among you who only see them in the rearview
mirror of your car, I feel compelled to render this brief report.
All such episodes begin, naturally, with a call to 911. Given the
frequent horror stories on national television about the sequence
of events apparently all-too familiar in some areas, it is significant
that all three of our calls were answered instantly, and that a
single sentence was all that was required to have the operator connect
us to the appropriate service. There, again, a single-sentence description
sufficed before giving our address, quickly repeated for confirmation,
and leading to the standard phrase of reassurance - "they are
on their way."
The time elapsed from the moment of dialing 911 to receiving that
phrase of reassurance remained invariably under two minutes.
After hanging up the phone, arrival of the help occurred somewhere
between six and eight minutes. As much as I was able to observe,
there always seemed to be one person to spare. More importantly,
they seemed superbly trained and equipped, radiated calm and efficiency,
and wasted not one moment. Their ability to assess the needs in
a flash was beyond doubt; they knew their way around any kind of
medication the patient had been taking, and they got to work after
a minute or so, spent surveying the situation.
The transportation to the nearest emergency room unfolded with
the same care and efficiency, every member of the team performing
like the component of a precision watch. On the way, they were already
in contact with those who would take delivery of me, administering
the agreed medication without delay. I said "team," and
that is the key word. Black or white, male or female, one was in
the care of a team, requiring little verbal coordination.
And, on top of all this, every member of the team found the time
to be reassuring, friendly, exceedingly pleasant. Every "thankyou"
was returned with an easy "that's our job."
I hope if it has to be, your experiences will confirm the foregoing.
I wish, too, that your experiences might be similar to mine with
another much-maligned institution, though my optimism may be over
the top in this case.
Does anyone like the Internal Revenue Service?
Given the harrowing experiences many have endured, putting forth
a word in favor of the IRS may be a losing proposition. And yet,
Just a few weeks ago, we received a threatening demand for a rather
large amount we did not owe. The notice provided a phone number
which we called. After a reasonable waiting time, an administrator
answered. Clearly, a payment we had made was credited to someone
else's account. We were able to provide details of our check, eventually
faxed him both sides while we were online, and the matter was disposed
of in about 25 minutes.
This was one of three "scrapes" with the agency since
1962 when I began to file our returns. The other was an audit. During
an unusual period in my professional life, I devised a somewhat
unorthodox manner of accounting for my expenses. Not unexpectedly,
that prompted an audit. The examining officer listened to my explanation,
then shook her head for several minutes. "Run this whole thing
by me again," she said finally, "and make it slow."
I proceeded, adding this time that - having given the matter a
great deal of thought - I opted for a way closer to the spirit than
to the letter of the law, but that the Treasury Department actually
ended up with the better deal.
She gave me a list of additional documents to send in, and required
a written narrative of what I had done. About two months later,
we received a check for just under $300.
The third time was different. Because a partnership notified a
distribution in the year after it actually had been received, the
IRS computer went haywire and we started receiving a bewildering
variety of notices about owing anything between $250 and $3,500.
For a while, I wrote patient letters explaining the origin of the
error - to no avail. Finally, I wrote a letter suggesting that the
particular IRS office writing to us had been replaced by an insane
asylum and, unless a real and sane human being gets hold and takes
care of the affair, I shall sue for a psychiatric examination of
the entire unit.
I mailed the letter and waited for the sheriff to ring our doorbell.
Instead, a notice arrived disposing of the entire affair and clearing
What I find most reassuring, though, is their handling of late
filings. In recent years, I had many occasions to file late, even
very late. Naturally, we received the customary reminders, occasionally
warnings. I always responded in a timely fashion, explained the
reasons, and made certain they never had cause to assume that I
was hiding. Invariably, their response was a great deal of patience,
and fair treatment when my returns were finally received.
And that, to my mind, is exactly what you should expect of an agency
of the United States Government.