What a clunker of a mismatch!

Sometimes, people with disparate backgrounds, cultures and vastly different personalities work well together on a project. Other times, you know before the starting gun sounds itís gonna be a disaster.

Look at the main parties in the cash-for-clunkers program: auto dealers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in charge of reimbursing dealers. Um, so thatís research scientists who have never cut a check to anybody inventing a system to pay billions within days to entrepreneurs desperately short of capital.

Sure, thatíll work.

Now in the perfect world envisioned by Congress, the final report eventually would read something like this: ďIn the 30 days before the law took effect, NHTSA scientists developed, tested and verified electronic systems for handling applications and payments, prevented fraud, and handled without delay unexpected surges in both applications and program funding. Dealers quickly adapted to NHTSAís requirements for detailed information and precise data entry. The flexibility of both sides ensured the programís success and hastened the nationís recovery.Ē

Now a show of hands. Who sees this as the most likely outcome?

I donít mean to insult anyone. The folks I know at NHTSA are decent people. They are thoughtful, patient, dedicated to learning why accidents happen and how they can be prevented. But even their time scale differs from dealer entrepreneurs. "Fast" to researchers is before the end of the next fiscal year. Dealers measure time by how many sales they close today.

And why ask those who donít dispense money to tackle extra-quick reimbursements? Lots of U.S. governmental agencies handle payments.

How about giving clunkers to the Internal Revenue Service?

It handles tens of millions of complicated returns every year and pays out hundreds of billions. Whatís another 700,000 files and $3 billion to the IRS?

Now, on the surface, that might not appeal to many dealers. Few dealers (or any Americans, for that matter) are exactly eager to start finger-thumping the chest of an IRS agent.

But IRS agents borrowed to process clunker claims might have less time to, say, audit individual tax returns.

Just a thought.

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