Washington DC and musical thermostats.





Years ago when I was stationed at Whiteman AFB in Missouri, I worked in a peculiar little town.  It was a town built one building at a time inside an aircraft hanger.  After a while spaces for new buildings inside the hanger became cramped, so the spaces between buildings were used.  Soon all the buildings joined together into a few large buildings with maze like hallways.  Due to the fact that this little town was inside a hanger there was no need to have any roofing, so all the buildings were flat toped with ceilings made of drywall.  Pathways were made from planks for technicians to walk from one place to another with out accidentally stepping through the drywall ceiling.  A view from the top of any building looked like a town after a tornado, all the roof were off and you could see into the guts of the attics.  On the top of these buildings were air conditioners. 


For all those people who are not familiar with how air conditioners work here is a little tidbit.  They do not provide cooling; air conditioners simply move the heat from one place to another.  In fact, air conditioners add even more heat to the heat the move so it is a net gain.  Inside your home the AC blows 20 degrees cooler, outside it blows 30 degrees warmer.


So all the air conditioners on these buildings removed heat from inside offices then send the hot air into the hanger. The air in the hanger can’t get outside very quickly.  There were times where I would walk through the parking lot on a nice 74 degree day, enter the hanger where it was a balmy 85 degrees, and into an office that was 72 degrees.  It may come as no surprise, but this little town at Whiteman AFB was the home of the Civil Engineering Squadron.  Military intelligence was in another building.


As you may have guessed, the main problem we had was not one of cooling but who gets to control the cooling.  Every power hungry officer or civilian office manager wanted to control the temperatures for their room. As it is in most cases there were many, many more rooms than air conditioners.  Also the air conditioners were quite simple and could only work with one thermostat at a time, thus the conflict.  People constantly requested control over the air in their little office.  Over time the solution to this problem was to respond to requests for thermostats by installing one for each request.  Once there were two thermostats it didn’t take someone long to figure out that their room was not in control of the air temperature.  This is what is known as broken.  To fix the thermostat the technician would simply move the wire from one thermostat to another. I estimate that after a few years of this, every air conditioner had at least five thermostats. 





I believe there are some parallels a person can draw from this.  Enormous resources can be spent, a little at a time, to create a huge complex system that can not be stopped.  By the time I arrived on base there were two controls technicians whose primary job was to change the wiring from one thermostat to another in response to complaints that they didn’t work.  When they were not moving wires around they were installing new thermostats to satisfy people who didn’t already have one.  To make their jobs easier the technicians actually installed terminal blocks above the thermostats on the roof.  I thought this was insane, but over time a person can become accustomed to just about any amount of idiocy. 


Using the above example, I now have a much better understanding of how the federal government works, why it costs so damn much money, and why it is impossible to fix with out a major renovation.  The people who wanted thermostats are just like the voting public.  They ask for a solution to their problem and are happy for a while, then complain when it doesn’t work.  The Government provides a solution to their problem while at the same time making it worse for someone else.  And round and round it goes while the hanger gets hotter, more energy is used, and a third person has to be hired to move thermostat wires around. 




2 thoughts on “Washington DC and musical thermostats.

  1. Wow. What a great allagory for what is going on in the U.S.

    [Somewhere] “But MY cause is IMPORTANT! You need to fund ME!”

    [Somewhere else] “Hey! Where’d my funding go?”

    [In DC] “We need to print more money.”

    AAAARG! You know what? The older I get, the more Hamiltonian I become.

    Turkish Prawn

  2. Burrowowl says:

    Works much the same in the private sector. The only difference is that an argument that something is not cost-effective will generally trump other arguments when it isn’t on the taxpayers’ tab.

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