Columnist Wayne Nash recently came across a state drilling job and was able, first hand, to observe the progress of our tax dollars at work.

I recently wrote about the government's attempt to control the lives of the farmers in the Klamath basin in Oregon through the control of water recourses, and I got wondering -- how well do they do when the government actually does the drilling? I happened to come across a state job recently and have been able, first hand, to observe the progress of our tax dollars at work. It makes the $700 toilet seats that the Pentagon buys look like a bargain! The job required a deep piezometer well (around 700 feet). The customer is the USGS; the driller is the state.

Since a piezometer well basically is used to monitor water level and quality, one would think that a 4-inch PVC well would do the job. But nooooo ... in order to justify a government salary, an extensive education, a car, an office and a bunch of other perks, some beareaucrat designed an 8-inch steel well! Probably specified American steel, too, just to keep the unions happy.

In the interest of improved efficiency, lower labor costs and overall worker happiness, the state has decreed that the drill crew work no more than 40 hours per week, including travel time. This setup might work pretty well for grader drivers within sight of the boss, but this job is five hours from the shop. Monday is a travel day, Tuesday and Wednesday are normal 10-hour workdays, but the motel must be quite a ways from the rig, 'cause they don't arrive until at least 10 a.m. and have to leave by 3 p.m. to get back. Thursday is another travel day and Friday is off.

All of this efficiency has, in six weeks of "work," produced 300 feet of hole and no end is in sight. Last week, the crew arrived and decided that the rig needed a new air cleaner element. Since one was not locally available and had to be ordered, they just waited around for it and went home. No hole drilled.

Two days of travel time would be understandable if the drill site were located all the way out here.
A short lesson in economics is in order. There are four basic ways to spend money. First, you spend your own money on yourself. You naturally look for the best deal at a fair price and try to get the most for your dollar. Second is when you spend your own money on somebody else. You naturally are looking for a good deal, but the desires of the recipient aren't quite as important. This explains why children get underwear for Christmas. Third, you spend someone else's money on yourself. In this case, cost isn't important. This explains why a lot of ex-wives drive Porches and shop at Neiman Marcus. Fourth -- you spend somebody else's money on somebody else. In this case, who cares? This is how the government spends money.

My point is this: there is almost nothing the government does that private enterprise can't do better, faster and cheaper. Instead of bidding this job out to a local driller, the state taxed the driller on a job he didn't get and paid many times more money to do it themselves in the most costly, inefficient way possible. I doubt they'll share the well logs with us mere mortals either!

Some years ago, right after the fall of the Soviet Union, I got the chance to witness government drilling in its full glory. Before the fall, all the rigs belonged to the Soviet government, and it provided the crews, the casing, bits, fuel and everything needed to drill wells. After the fall, the government told the driller, "O.K., it's your rig now, you are in business for yourself." The drillers were having some efficiency problems, and a group of them came to Houston to visit and asked some of us what they could do to make their operations more efficient. We asked a lot of questions, and learned that they were drilling a lot of 4-inch PVC wells, about 500 feet deep. It took about six to eight weeks per well. The crew consisted of a driller and 14 helpers. They asked me what I thought they could do to increase efficiency. Well, having never been to diplomat school and being pretty much a spit-it-out kinda guy, I told them, "Fire 12 helpers and tell the rest to show up sober!" This went over 'bout like passing gas in church, and I didn't get invited to any more meetings. My friend later went over there and tried to help, but he didn't have enough initials behind his name, so they didn't bother to listen to one of the best drillers in the world.

When you see the government doing a drilling job that you could be doing, ask questions, demand to know why you weren't given the opportunity to bid. Private enterprise is what built America and what keeps us strong. American drillers have pioneered most of the drilling methods and technology that allows efficient production of our resources, and I for one can't see why the government needs to take work from us and tax us on top of that to pay for it.