I contemplated giving WAJTW a pass today, but it’s Thursday and 93 weeks of tradition are a hard habit to break. Without further introduction, here are the top three in no particular order:
1. Speaker John Boehner. The man who surrendered the Republican Party to the radicals. He has the votes for a continuing resolution that would clear the House with bi-partisan support, but he won’t bring it up for a vote because it would effectively end his speakership. 800,000 federal civilians could go back to work, the United States of America could have an operational government, and Speaker Boehner could have been a hero in the eyes of moderates. All he has to do is make up his mind that being a statesman is more important than being Speaker. I won’t be holding my breath.
2. The budget. Much like Congress, I’ve spent the last few days doing my own budget drills and deciding what’s essential and what isn’t. I’ve got my list of what needs to be discontinued and over the next few days I’ll be slowly turning those things off. When you see the blog no longer being updated, you’ll know that essential services like cell service and high speed internet are starting to get cut. I’ve been contemplating issuing blanket IOUs to companies I do business with. After all, if Congress can make people work without paying them, I should be able to do the same thing with the Delmarva Power, AT&T, and Toyota.
3. Waiting. It seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that we won’t be back in the office tomorrow. At least the weekend will feel like business as usual. The most frustrating part of the shutdown/furlough/congressionally imposed asshattery, is the waiting – the uncertainty about when we’ll get back to work, the uncertainty about whether there will be back pay, wondering if it isn’t time after all to start casting a line at other career opportunities. The waiting just plain sucks. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. And the real pity in all of this is that for a generation of good and loyal servants of the republic, morale and the feeling that what we do is important will never actually recover.
As part of the Magical Mystery Furlough of 2013, half the people stay home on Mondays and the other half stay home on Fridays. It’s one of those ideas that sound better in theory than it operates in practice. The logic was that inflicting the furlough on two separate days would mean that offices were open and “servicing the customer” during normal business hours. Like I said, it sounds fine in theory. I mean what customer doesn’t enjoy a good servicing, no?
What’s really happened, of course, is both Monday and Friday have become bureaucratic dead zones – the lights are on, there are a few people around, and we can officially say that the office is “open.” Just don’t try to get much done because odds are at least half of the people you need to talk to are scheduled out on the opposite Furlough Day. It’s hard to believe no one at echelons higher than reality saw that coming.
What we end up with is a functional work week that takes place only on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday because that’s the only time most people make it to the office nowadays. That’s not taking into account the people who are out in the normal course of using vacation days or sick time. Since no meetings were harmed in carrying out this furlough, anything that was usually scheduled on Monday or Friday now takes place on one of the other days too. That’s not even accounting for the meetings we now have to have to talk specifically about the impacts of sequestration and the furlough. Far be it for me to criticize, but let’s just say productive time is becoming an increasingly rare commodity.
The lights are on. We can say we’re still open five days a week. But what’s been lost in productivity is far greater than the sum of everyone’s collective 20% reduction of hours. Maybe this whole asinine exercise will save Uncle a penny or two on the dollar, but what he’s losing in the productivity, morale, dedication, and respect of his employees will cost him a shitload more than that in the long run.
1. Furlough payday. Holy balls. Even when you’ve run the numbers and have a good solid sense of what’s coming, no amount of tinkering around on a spreadsheet really prepares you for Uncle Sam reaching deep into your wallet and financially raping you. Repeatedly. A week ago, I was philosophically opposed to Sequestration and the resultant furlough. With the arrival of my most recent direct deposit, I’ve transition more into a mode of going out to the shed to see if I have a pitchfork and a few torches to spare. It strikes me that if I were alive and in Boston on December 16, 1773, I would have probably been heaving boxes of tea overboard with a smile on my face. It seems that although I don’t particularly like the rabble, I do enjoy rousing them.
2. George. While I would like to thank the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for naming their offspring in honor of my Tortoise, I am utterly vexed when it comes to understanding why the good people of the United States spent half a dozen days buzzing about it. If we were the United Colonies or a member of the Commonwealth, I could understand being interested in the birth of our future head of state, but since we’re citizens and not subjects, I’m at a loss. How many other 30-something couples in the UK had babies this week? How many people in your town had babies? Know how much we all care about them? Yeah. We don’t. I say Godspeed to Wills and Kate, but knowing that they had a baby and that he will sit the throne long after most people alive today have shuffled off the stage is a sufficient report. There’s no need to get our collective nickers in a twist.
3. POTUS. When I hear the president on television talking about growing middle class jobs, increasing spending on education, and generally touting his plan to improve the economy, I only have one thought these days. That thought: WTF? As the head of the executive branch, the president could take one giant step towards improving the plight of the middle class by directing his Secretary of Defense to cancel the administrative furloughs of 650,000 civilian employees. Before he has any credibility on any issue that even tangentially touches on pay, benefits, and employment, the man needs to keep the promises made to the folks already working for him. What I think I understand so far is when large corporations load up on part time employees to keep costs down, it’s evil and wrong, but when the largest agency of the federal government does it it’s a prudent cost savings measure. WTF, Mr. President? WTF?
One of the great old saws about the Army is that it trains as it fights. That is to say that in theory, the Army likes it’s training to approximate real world environments. That helps explain why we dump million of dollars into out of the way places like Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Ft. Irwin, California. They’re some of the last places in the country where large groups of men and equipment can careen across the wilderness unhampered by complaints by decent taxpaying citizens.
I’m not sure this training ethos holds true for Uncle’s vast army of civilian employees. I’ve spent the better part of today sitting in an auditorium with 200-odd colleagues watching as a contractor navigated around the interweb teaching us how to do file management, set permissions, and covering the importance of information sharing and security. The next two days promise more of the same. This probably doesn’t qualify as training as we fight. Then again, looking around at the blank stares and acres of trees sacrificed to make PowerPoint printouts, maybe it is.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date
I hear it in the hushed conversation over cubicle walls. I see the grins and sly thumbs up offered by our own HR staffers. Somewhere just beyond my field of view, the wheels of the great green machine are in motion. We’ve got a heartbeat. It’s faint, but there. After the torturous road this process has taken just to get to the “tentative” stage, I don’t dare to think of it as a done deal. The probability of success is definitely increasing, but that’s a long way from a signed set of orders and a new desk. Nevertheless, I’m raising the confidence meter from cautiously optimistic to hopeful.
Experience has taught me and millions of others that the Army is a serious player in the game of hurry up and wait. I’ve got the waiting bit down to a science. It seems that we’re about to get a lesson in extreme hurry up. I’m confident that in this case, hurry up is far preferable.
After another week of ponderous waiting, I was given another gentle reminder that this thing up north might actually work out. I got to spend a few minutes talking to a to individual who will act as my “sponsor” during the transition and in-processing period. It wasn’t exactly the call from HR that I have been waiting for, but it’s a sign of life. At this point on the long, torturous process I seem to be overly given to looking for signs and reading tea leaves. Absent the magic moment when they throw the switch from tentative to official, that is probably as good as it’s going to get. After nine months, you’d think that I would be use to waiting for things to happen.
The ability of the system to make the simple things hard is never far from my thoughts these days. Since this whole exercise involves filling out some paperwork and moving my electrons from one database to another, it’s still hard to understand how it could possibly take as long as it does. The irony is that once they pull the trigger, they’ll probably want to give me a short reporting date and wonder why I can’t get out of here with a whole two weeks notice. I’ve been around this Army long enough to know better than spend a dime making preparations without a set of orders in hand. So, I hurry up and wait.
The post I was set to bring you tonight will not be appearing because the subject matter went and changed on me between the time I started writing and the time it was supposed to post. Instead of another rant about the Army personnel system, I bring you tidings of great joy. The 30-day civilian hiring freeze is over – ending its 91-day reign of terror. Don’t believe, me? Check out the Civilian Personnel website for yourself.
Aside from the system not being at a complete standstill, I’m not exactly sure what the great thaw really means yet. I know that it means that personnel offices now have a 90 day backlog of hiring actions to clear and that’s never a quick process even under the most optimal conditions. I don’t have much faith at this point in any of the possibilities that looked promising back in February. Expecting magical reanimation of things just as they were at the moment they were frozen back in March seems about as likely as breathing new life into Walt Disney’s frozen head. Sure, it’s sounds possible… maybe… but not very likely.
What this probably means is that at least now there’s a fighting chance at working through the nomination-interview-hiring process to the point where a job offer is at least a possibility. So now it’s a mad race to spool up and flood my resume back into the Army system. Nothing like being back at square one.