The better part of a decade ago the then Secretary of Defense befuddled members of the Pentagon press corps with a discussion of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Love him or hate him, Secretary Rumsfeld had a certain happy felicity of phrase that made his press events a thing of beauty to watch. Believe it or not, though, I did’t log in tonight to talk about the former Secretary.
Instead, I came to complain about the known knows – namely that I know the weekend is ending in a few hours and I know even before Monday gets here that I’ll be working late tomorrow night. I don’t mean that I’ll be there until the small hours of the morning, but there is an unavoidable afternoon meeting that’s definitely going to step all over what is normally a very happy time of the day. In this case, it’s not exactly my fault. I inherited this meeting from someone who has moved on to practice other opportunities to excel and it was set in concrete long before it landed on my desk. I like to think you all know me well enough to know there’s no way in hell I would schedule a meeting at end-of-tour. That’s just not my style.
So that’s my known known before the new week even starts. It’s a fair bet that it’s a known that will annoy me for the rest of tonight and throughout the day tomorrow. I wish it didn’t. Things that screw with my carefully cultivated schedule are one of those things that bother me well beyond all reasonable levels. With all that said, the knowns aren’t likely to be the things that really jam up the week. It’s the whole host of unknown unknowns lurking right below the surface that promise to blow the week to hell and back.
With that said, I’ve got a bottle of wine to finish and a good book to stick my nose in for the balance of the evening. That should decisively keep both the knows and unknowns at bay for the time being.
Usually when a bump in the night rouses Maggie, she lets out one shrill bark and settles back down to sleep. This morning was different. At 1:52 AM, she came up growling and snarling in that “I’m going to rip your throat out” kind of way angry dogs have about them. Still groggy, I was awake enough to know that was unusual for her and perhaps a warning sign of bad things to come. I didn’t hear anything unusual myself, but I guess I wouldn’t over the sound of hostile lab making her presence known.
Opting for the almost certain overkill of a pump action 12 gauge, I racked a round into the chamber and set out to investigate. Fortunately for everyone involved, a quick sweep of the house proved that all was secure and no one was skulking about with nefarious intent. It’s for the best. I’m thankful it was a false alarm, but in the event of an actual break in, I like to think the sight of a 300 pound naked man with a shotgun and a snarling dog coming down the steps at you might just be enough to give even the most addle minded, meth-ridden thief pause about continuing their activities.
Government work tends to be one of those odd environments where up is down, good is evil, and logic is nonsense. It feels, at times, like a none-too-subtle combination of Groundhog Day and Dante’s Inferno. Maybe that’s an exaggeration… but only a little. I can say that with a degree of certainty because that’s the kind of day it’s been today.
At just after 11:00 this morning I was handed my formal notice that the United States Government plans to furlough me one day a week beginning on July 8th. Exactly 148 minutes later I received an email congratulating me on ten years of service to the government and notifying me that I’d be getting a certificate at the next office awards ceremony. You’d have to work pretty hard at sending two more discordant messages to your employees. Timing, as they say, is everything… even when it comes to giving with one hand and taking away with the other. I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not in a rush to agree to parading across the stage, smiling for the photo op, and pretending that I give a good goddamn about another certificate in my three ring binder.
I’m sure at some point in the distant past, a nice suitable for framing certificate was a fine motivational tool… but unless I can barter that certificate for goods and services, under the circumstances, I think you can understand why I don’t think it’s worth the paper it’s printed on. I’m going to improvise, adapt, and overcome… but don’t expect that I’ll be thanking anyone for the opportunity.
And people wonder why I’m cynical about almost everything.
Secretary Hagel announced this afternoon that the department was reducing it’s number of planned furlough days for civilians from 14 to 11. That’s down from the original estimate of 22 days they were talking about back in February and March. Judging from the blip of coverage I’ve seen, the media consensus is that defense civilians should be doing cartwheels and singing hosannas at the “good news.” That’s a problem for me.
While it’s true that 14 is better than 22 and 11 is better than 14, I’m not willing to concede the point that any number of furlough days is a “good” thing. In fact it’s bad precedent for the next 9 years of sequestration planning, it’s bad for productivity, and it’s bad for morale. I’m not going to get on the band wagon of a 5% pay cut this year (after 3 years of frozen pay) being a good thing. I’m not lending even the hint of my accepting the idea that this is anything other than a political problem being solved on the backs of a workforce that they’ve already spent three years beating like redheaded stepchildren.
The story we’re being sold is that leadership has “saved” the workforce from the worst effects of the sequester. The reality is that all you’ve done is replace one really shitty course of action with another slightly less really shitty course of action. It’s hard to imagine why I wouldn’t be falling all over myself with gratitude. I wouldn’t thank a mugger because he didn’t take all the cash in my wallet and I’m not going to thank our illustrious leaders for legally doing the same thing. If they were expecting a thank you for their half assed attempt at “leadership,” boy did they come to the wrong place.
I made my first concession to the sequestration this morning – I now have a “lunch pail.” I know that doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, but back in the early days of the universe when I was a first year teacher brown bagging lunch every day, I made up my mind that I would officially designate life successful when I could eat lunch somewhere different every day and retire the brown bags. It sounds like a good idea, until you really look at the pesky fact that subs and salads from Wawa are running you a couple of hundred bucks a month. Since the sequester seems like it’s going to hang around for a while, it seems like the better part of valor is to try cutting back the small pleasures to save the bigger ones. Sadly, Wawa’s tasty, tasty sandwiches are probably just the first of many victims of my ruthless sequestration-induced budgetary realignment. No worries about morale when you’ve got a couple of slightly smushed PB&J’s and a warm Diet Coke. War is apparently a bad business to be in when we seem determined to pretend that peace is breaking out all over.
Most mornings I’m greeted at the office with more than a handful of emails. Usually they’re run of the mill mass notifications that come in overnight, but just occasionally they’re something a little more than that. Like this morning, when the two messages at the top of my inbox were one providing more information on the impending furlough of federal employees and the other inviting me to take an employee satisfaction survey. It’s hard to find a better definition of irony than landing those two topics next to one another.
Let me be real honest here for a minute… no matter how much I may like my job, the people I work with, or how well the building is heated and cooled, when you tell me you’ll be cutting my pay by 20% for the remainder of the year, my employee satisfaction plummets into negative numbers. No amount of ample parking, health fairs, and access to a gym is going to compensate for that. Sorry. There’s being a team player, and then there’s getting screwed with your pants on… and I’ve been around long enough to know the difference when I see it.
In a republic, one makes his displeasure known by registering an opinion with their elected “leaders,” and yes I use that term loosely. Having expressed by disgust to the head of the executive branch, the legislative branch leadership team, and to my own elected representatives, all that’s really left is to register my profound discontent here in my very own marketplace of ideas. Honestly, stoking the fire here is probably more productive than anything I’ve bothered to send to our political masters anyway. At least here, I know someone is going to actually going to get around to reading what ends up on the page… and as a special bonus, I won’t get a form letter in response.