Last August, the FBI raided San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection and arrested an official for allegedly taking bribes from a contractor. It was yet another embarrassment for an organization that, rightly or wrongly, has long suffered from a reputation for favoritism and improprieties. At the time of the arrest, the department had been under FBI investigation for five years. This event got me to thinking about the nature of corruption in building and planning departments, regardless of where it occurs. It would be easy to blame a few bad apples for this not-uncommon problem, but in fact, the process may deserve as much blame as the personnel. Bribery is, of course, one way of circumventing normal channels that don't function adequately. In the days of the old U.S.S.R., for example, staple foods like chicken, beef and pork were often very scarce. Not surprisingly, corruption flourished under these conditions. While ordinary Russians routinely stood in line for hours for the ...
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