What I learned this week…

I’ve had a raging coffee habit since my freshman year in high school. Under normal circumstances,  my average intake is about a pot a day, so call it 10-12 regulation sized cups.

While I’ve been more or less at home continually over the last two weeks it seems my intake of tea has increased dramatically while coffee consumption has cratered. I still need that 5AM kick in the face that only steaming hot coffee can provide, but after three or four cups, I’m moving to tea for the duration of the morning and the entirety of the afternoon.

I’m sure someone could uncover a deep psychological reason for the shift, but at least some of it is practical, I’m sure. Coffee and plenty of it is easy to come by in the office – mostly by way of the thermos on my desk that keeps it scalding hot through most of the day. Proper tea brewing isn’t impossible in a cube farm, but it is, even if only slightly, harder than making a regular cup of joe… Mostly because of my refusal to use the employer provided tap water or the kettle surely tainted by the aforementioned water. 

I suspect when all this is over, assuming the republic doesn’t collapse into some Mad Max-style free for all, I’m going to end up needing  to buy a damned electric kettle to take to the office.

Thats’s it. That’s the big voyage of self discovery triggered by a week working from home. Sorry if you were expecting some kind of big finish.

What I learned this week…

Back when I was a young, still wet behind the years bureaucrat, I thought I wanted to be a professional emergency manager. You may remember me from such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina, when I spent two months learning more about the bottled water, ice, and refrigerated trucking industry than is strictly reasonable.

You might be wondering what that has to do with what I learned this week… Well, it’s mostly that it seems so very little has changed in that world. Reports will never be on time. No one will read them when they are published. And the numbers being reported will never ever match.

I also learned that emergency management is probably a young man’s game. Things I once would have savored now regularly leave me trying to hold back a disgusted cry of “What is this fuckery?” and “What ignorant sonofabitch thought this was a good idea?”

Maybe that last part hasn’t really changed so much, though. I vaguely remember a whole lot of eye rolling during Katrina too.

Agreement…

I’ve had my current telework agreement in place for over three years. That represents about 150 weeks of working from home at least one day per week. There have been occasional technical issues, but I like to think my performance over those last 150 weeks hasn’t suffered. My yearly performance assessments under two different bosses seem to back up that theory.

The telework agreement I’m working under, and I’ll quote here, says in part, “Employees’ participating in the telework program enhances workplace flexibilities and it allows he Command to maintain Continuity of Operations (COOP) during any emergency situations, pandemic health crisis, or special event that causes disruption in the workplace.” I added a bit of emphasis there.

We are currently living through the exact reason why employees are issued laptops and encouraged to have telework agreements in place. I can perform 95% of my daily tasks right here in my sunroom without a problem. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has declared offices in DC “open with maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees.” The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that no gatherings of more than 50 people take place for the next eight weeks. The President of the United States lowered that to groups of no more than 10 during this afternoon’s coronavirus working group briefing. Every news outfit on the planet is preaching the gospel of social distancing. I spect sooner rather than later, many jurisdictions in the United States will find themselves with soft “lock downs” similar to what Italy is experiencing.

Letting people who can work from home go do that makes eminent sense. The fewer potential vectors wandering the halls the better for everyone. My particular part of the vast bureaucracy, though, has opted to remain utterly silent on the issue. I can only assume that means they think piling hundreds of people into a hermetically sealed building is somehow a more advantageous strategy to ensure the business of the organization continues to get done.

It’s a bad take… and it’s the very definition of an unnecessary risk to personnel. Maybe I’ll catch hell for saying that publicly… but of the things I could catch in a room where 30 people are packed in asshole to elbow breathing recirculated air and not seeing the sun, catching hell should probably be the least of my worries.

I’m lucky that I got to work from home today. Unless someone steps up with a little leadership before tomorrow morning, I’ll be expected in the office the rest of the week. Ultimately, though, I’m responsible for my own health and welfare. If I can’t depend on the powers that be to make good decisions for their employees, I’ll continue to conduct my own daily risk assessments and determine for myself when it’s time to hunker down until the worst blows over, regardless of whether that means working from home or burning off the mountain of leave I’ve banked over the last 18 years.

Peak bureaucrating…

So this week I’m engaged in something of a thought exercise. In one file, I’m continuing to develop, refine, and otherwise prepare a program of events suitable to feed and entertain 800-1000 guests. In another folder, I’m starting to build a list of what would go in to turning the whole thing off with little to no notice.

I’m planning for the success and demise of this particular product simultaneously. It’s like trying to hold two mutually exclusive thoughts in your head at the same time. It’s possible that I’m starting to smell colors and see music. It’s like I’m dangerously close to reaching Peak Bureaucrat… or possibly having a stroke. I won’t rule out either option at this point.

In any case, I’m now officially rooting for COVID-19 and the collapse of civilization. We had a good run, but it’s time to go.

What I learned this week…

I know that a few months ago I told you I like learning things. In fact,I promised to make each Friday’s post a tribute to that idea.

Here, now, I’m going to backtrack on that statement a little. This week has been an unrelenting bitch. I don’t want to learn anything new this week. In fact it would be helpful if I could just turn my brain down to a low simmer for the next few days and focus on blocking out things that are old and stupid rather than acquiring that which is new and interesting. I just don’t have the bandwidth for it this week.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put something completely mindless on the telly and read until my eyes go blurry. That should carry me through about 8:30 ot so. Then I’ll sleep and hope to rise again tomorrow and pretend it’s not just a two day pause in an endless parade of major and minor shitshows otherwise known as weekdays.

On the vagaries of fate…

Government work isn’t generally known as a hotbed of excitement. Still, there are people in Florida heaving heavy objects into deep space, bean counters at Treasury striving mightily to keep the economy on track, agricultural inspectors keeping an eye on our meat and produce, or Coasties rescuing sailors in distress. There’s a lot of good work going on out there.

I should put heavy emphasis on the “out there,” because none of those things is reflective of what I’m currently fiddling with on behalf of my rich uncle. I spent at least some part of today reviewing the website of a local porta potty company and talking with their very special customer service team about getting a quote to provide services to an upcoming event. Lest you think that we’re talking about hauling in a bunch of standard plastic single seater units that we’ve all seen or used at outdoor venues, you can get that image out of your head completely. We’re talking about trailerable units that are fully powered and ventilated, plumbed with hot and cold running water, and feature the latest in mobile bathroom design elements.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like living as a planner in one of those little corners of my universe that does the cool stuff… or what might have been if I’d have landed back in the strategic planning world I thought I was headed towards when I made the leap back to Maryland. I, and the world, will never know. It’s the path not taken.

If anyone needs me I’ll be over here thinking about executive porta johns and wondering which particular career decision put me inexorably on the path to this exact moment.

What I learned this week…

After you’ve been almost twenty years a bureaucrat, you think you know all the tricks in the book. With that kind of experience, one might be forgiven for thinking they’ve seen it all before. Even so, I’ve learned an important new skill this week that is sure to improve my abilities as a professional bureaucrat going forward.

Like the very best skills in every field, this technique seems deceptively simple. All you have to do to start is say “I agree with everything you’ve just proposed.” Then follow that statement with the qualifier, “with the following changes” and proceed to list half a dozen ways in which you’re going to change the proposal you’ve just nominally agreed with.

For a moment, the poor unsuspecting fool you’re dealing with might even think they’ve gotten the approval that they need to move something forward. Only later once they’ve digested the proposed changes will they realize their proposal may have been changed root and stem.

The good news is that this approach doesn’t have to be a one-and-done. You can keep on agreeing with the thing you just changed while proposing further changes through endless iterations. It’s the bureaucratic gift that keeps on giving. If you’re confident enough, you can keep this self licking ice cream cone rolling on for days or weeks, maybe even months under the right circumstances.

A lesser man might be enraged when realizing he’s been played by such a smooth operator. Not being a lesser man, I’ll just consider it a lesson learned and a new skill I’ll very quickly adopt for my own kit bag.