Last weekend, NPR interviewed Vanessa Cordova Ramirez, a high school senior from Brooklyn who had been offered admission by her top college choices, including St. Joseph’s University, Manhattan College and St. John’s.

Unfortunately, Ramirez won’t be going to those schools. She has a job and her parents are able to help a little, but that money combined won’t be enough to cover the cost of private schools. So she’ll probably end up at the City University of New York instead because she, like millions of other students, is still waiting to hear about financial aid offers thanks to months of delays by the Department of Education.

Congress passed legislation to simplify the federal financial aid form (known as FAFSA) in 2020, with a plan to implement the new form for the high school class of 2024. Despite the long lead time, the department was unprepared.

As NPR notes, the application “opened about three months later than normal, and was further delayed when the department failed to take inflation into account.”

Further, as the report noted, “Schools rely on the department’s calculations to know how much federal financial aid a student qualifies for. Once they receive that data, schools offer scholarships or grants and send the full package to students, normally a few days or weeks after an acceptance. But this year, the aid letters never came.”

And now students are having to choose a college without concrete aid offers on the table.

It is striking how little outrage this situation has provoked. I can only imagine that if this had happened under the previous administration there would be wall-to-wall coverage about how Republicans don’t care about poor people going to college. But in this case, it just seems like a big oopsie. Where are the congressional hearings? I can think of a few million families who would tune into C-Span for those.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think there is some big conspiracy to keep low-income kids from accessing higher education. But the incompetence here is mind-boggling. Where does it originate? It almost seems like our institutions are so focused on ideological agendas and political sloganeering, they have lost sight of the basic things that we want the government to do.

An article in The Atlantic suggested that the people working in the Office of Federal Student Aid simply had too much on their plates — what with distributing pandemic relief, dealing with the student loan forgiveness plans, and various other new regulations. Some claim the department had too few resources and they contracted out projects to other firms that didn’t do their jobs. One problem is that no one seems able to decide what the priority should be.

Whatever you think of our financial aid system — and I, for one, think it has allowed colleges to increase their prices far more than they would have otherwise — kids depend on this system to pay for school. If we’re going to pull the rug out from under them, we should have a good explanation for why.

Increasingly, Americans have the sense that things don’t work. On a local level they worry about crime and homelessness and schools that don’t seem to teach anything. On the federal level they wonder whether there is any end to the threatened shutdowns, and whether our infrastructure is safe.

We don’t know yet what caused the bridge collapse in Baltimore, and maybe it was something no one could have foreseen. It does seem that there was a surprisingly high degree of competence and efficiency in shutting down the bridge quickly once the situation became clear.

But it has made me think about a small overpass a mile from our house. Trucks are forbidden from traveling on the road — a major artery in the New York area — that runs underneath it because the clearance is too low. There are flashing signs and other warnings every mile or so warning about the danger. But the overpass is still struck at least once a week by a truck driver not paying attention. The top of the truck will peel back like a sardine can and it will take hours to tow it off the road, backing up traffic for miles.

What does it say about the drivers of the nation’s 18-wheelers that this happens so frequently? Perhaps more importantly, how many times can the bridge be struck before it sustains structural damage. Usually I stop myself from worrying, assuming that someone in a government agency knows the answer and is keeping track. But these days I’m not so sure.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives,” among other books.