Painting over rust is what you do when you want something to look better without going to the trouble of solving the underlying problem. The problem remains, but for the time being you look better, can pass cursory inspections, mollify the unsuspecting, and perhaps even receive undeserved praise.
An example is the airlines, which have been pushing back arrival times so to boost their rankings in the Department of Transportation’s “on time” charts, which powerfully affect the public’s perceptions. Delta Flight 715 from New York to Los Angeles now takes over seven hours, up from 6 hours in 1996. No, it’s not continental drift; New York and Los Angeles are still the same distance apart. It is simply Delta cooking the numbers in order to look good without actually performing any better. Delta is far from alone. Southwest Airlines now blocks out 80 minutes to fly from Phoenix to Las Vegas instead of 60 minutes, American Airlines now needs 2 1/2 hours to fly from Chicago to Newark, up 30 minutes from the former 2-hour flight time. (Wall Street Journal, “The Middle Seat,” February 4, 2010.)
I don’t have all the answers, far from it. But this much I do know: covering up a problem never solves it.
Transparency and solution-oriented accountability (never to be confused with playing the gotcha political blame game) are always among the first steps to solving any problem.
”It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.” — John Baptiste Moliére (1622–1673), French playwright
“It is easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of action.” — Stanley Milgram (1933–1984), American social psychologist , who conducted the infamous Milgram Experiment on submission to authority
“We all participate in weaving the social fabric; we should therefore all participate in patching the fabric when it develops holes.” — Anne C. Weisberg, “Everything a Working Mother Needs to Know,” 1994