Well, there’s your problem…

One of the biggest challenges of being young and ambitious and employed by the federal government all at the same time is that due to it effectively being a closed system, the ranks are filled with crusty old bastards who are blocking your route to plum assignments. They’ve been retired in place for years now and have no intention of leaving. For the generation coming up through the ranks, these are nothing so much as roadblocks, whose skill sets and mentality would be better suited for the government of 1967 than that of 2007. I’m not suggesting here that there should be a mandatory retirement age, just that there reaches a point where it’s no longer in the best interest of the government to keep these people on the payroll. In fact, I don’t know why you would reach 40 years of service and actually still want to hang around. Personally, I’m planning on playing a hell of a lot of golf by that stage of the game.

Of course the reality is that the federal bureaucracy is, at some unspoken level, a make work program whose personnel system has an unfortunate tendency to softly discourage young employees from turning a job into a career. When there is no clear path to advancement or even lateral transfer into a more attractive position, what incentive does a mid-level 20-something employee have to stay the course? Why would they wait, possibly for years, for a position or a promotion that no one can guarantee? Organizational loyalty is a great thing, but it has to work both ways. If you can’t reward the hard work and dedication of the Young Turks who designed and helped build the organization, they have to look to other opportunities and to their own future. Our generation isn’t one to sit around and “pay dues” just because that’s what our parent’s generation did.

The time has come to distribute the spoils of the transition we helped carry out. Historically, though, revolutions have a bad habit of eating their own young – just ask Robespierre or Marat. I’d recommend we all stay out of the tub for a while, just to be on the safe side of things.

Right back where we started from…

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Fort Lee. When I was desperate to leave teaching and sloshing my way towards high-functioning alcoholism, Ft. Lee was my first step towards redemption. It was the place that restored my faith in my own abilities. Coming back to this place is a little like coming home to mama. It is one of those little pieces of geography that gives me a warm fuzzy. I am a firm believer that there are certain places, geographic locations that have a huge impact on who we become as people. I’m not going so far as arguing that geography makes the man (although there are some interesting theories floating around), just that it has an influence.

I’m sitting here 1000 yards from where Grant broke the rebel line at Petersburg in the last great battle of our Civil Way. After Petersburg, the worst of the conflict was over, though peace would come only after the fall of Richmond and the long march to Appomattox. After Petersburg, normal was still a long way off. There remained the struggle of national Reconstruction and decades of Jim Crowe. The Republic had endured the dark threat of disunion and although Gettysburg is remembered as the battle that turned the tide, it was Petersburg that finally broke the back of the rebellion. This is where the process of restoring faith in the Union began in earnest.

In so many ways, Petersburg did the same thing for me. There’s something about the symmetry that I like.

On a lark…

I’d been kicking it around for a while now and boredom while waiting for clothes to dry finally got the better of me this afternoon… I’m now the proud registered owner of 2 websites – jeffreytharp.com and jdtharp.com. Now I just need to figure out what to do with them… And yes, I have to admit that there was a strong temptation make some quick money by linking my name inextricably with the internet porn industry, but I’ve resisted that temptation so far.

So, my gaggle of devoted friends, what the hell does one do with a website other than create a spiffy email address where both sides of the @ symbol are the same thing?

Two day pass…

Having slept in until a ridiculously late 7:00 this morning, I’m feeling rested and ready to again take over the world. I’m on a two day pass to get some things done around the house… think laundry, lawn care, and general cleaning… and then I’m on the road to Richmond for a week. As an aside, there’s no good way to get from Memphis to Richmond. Apparently, the only way to do it on a Sunday is to go through Newark, New Jersey as an intermediate step. I’m sure there is a logic to the way airlines do what they do, but I’m damned if I can figure it out.

Standing down…

This first outing of 2007 has been full of sound and fury, sure enough, but has come to nothing. We’re closing down, packing up, and heading out. Lots of build up only to watch everything fizzle when it was time for the big event. Is it possible for a hurricane to give you blue balls? Never mind, ignore that question.

I should be back in the MEM tomorrow afternoon… at least for a few days.

I’ll take “Conversations I never thought I’d be a part of for $1000, Alex”…

As they get older, some people develop this Normal Rockwell idealized version of childhood where they think of themselves as “growing up poor” and spinning endless yarns about how tough they had it. I’m not one of those people. Though a far cry from wealthy, we were comfortable. Despite this, I managed to learn a healthy respect for money, which I even try to remember from time to time now that I’m in charge of my own.

One of the things that anyone who has every worked a big emergency event will tell you is that the day tends to stretch on in an unending series of telephone conferences and meetings where people say mostly the same thing again and again. Occasionally, though, you’ll hear something that either makes you shake your head in disbelief or shoot lukewarm coffee out your nose at something approaching the speed of sound.

This afternoon, I was lounging in my standard government issue office chair, leaning perilously back and swilling cup after cup of what passes for “official” coffee. The meeting I was part of was dealing with an impending budget request and since it wasn’t my budget, I’ll admit that my attention was wandering. The question that caught me not only by surprise, but completely unaware in this case was a simply worded affair: Do you think we should request the full $…illion? Now remember, a couple of million is no big deal between agencies, so I didn’t think much of the words that ending in “…illion,” until, of course, the answer came back, “no, I think we can get by on the $950 million for this one.”

That’s right, you just found the point in the day where the institutional coffee I had been drinking filled my sinus cavity. This room full of mid-level bureaucrats was tossing around a billion dollar budget request like people toss a $5 bill on the counter to pay for their daily Starbucks fix. Now that I’ve had the chance to think about it, in the grand scheme of the federal budget, a billion isn’t really that big a chuck of change to request… and that realization really got me thinking.

Growing up in Nowhere, Maryland, I never once would have imagined the places I’ve been, the things I’ve done, and the opportunities I have had. But today, there I was, the youngest person in the room easily by a decade, when we decided that we could “get by” on $995 million next year. There’s enough Western Maryland left in me to still think of that as real money, Everett Dirksen to the contrary.

Stupid sit and wait…

The last time I did this, I was working 13 hour days on top of a two and a half hour round trip commute. This time I’ve gotten myself set up in a hotel three blocks from the office and when I get to the room, I’m still exhausted. This office isn’t as fun as working across town at the center of the storm. I have a sneaking suspicion that things will start picking up tomorrow when we start kicking people out the door and lining them up in central Texas. For the time being, I’ll be happy racking up overtime and travel pay. Keep an eye on the Weather Channel for the next few days and you’ll have a pretty good preview of how tired a/o pissed off I’m gonna be for the next few weeks.