What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. New and improved. Last week the powers that be implemented a new procedure that was aimed at speeding up the time it takes to get people through the front gate. As far as I can tell all it’s succeeded at doing is creating a cluster fuck of the traffic pattern and made the wait time even longer. Forty years of experience tells me that “new and improved” rarely is… and mostly exists because someone needed a big box checked off on their annual performance appraisal.

2. I’m not particularly chatty at the best of times. When I have Post It notes stacked up like cordwood and a ten page handwritten list of shit to do, I’m even less inclined to want to chat about, well, anything, really. Sorry if the blank look on my face while you’re talking to be about a radom sportsball team I have no interest in at the best of times seems rude, but I have a limited amount of bandwidth. I’d really like to use it to make sure as many of the bits of paper on my desk are on someone else’s desk before the close of business. Unless what you’re telling me is something that’s going to make my life easier, it’s best for both of us if you bugger directly off until I’ve dug out from under the clusterfuck of the day, week, or month.

3. Maryland E-Z Pass. Let’s forget for a moment that until recently tolls at roads and bridges in Maryland were sold to the public as something that would be dropped “as soon as the cost of construction was paid off.” E-Z Pass is one of the ways that many states, including Maryland, have offered up to make their ongoing extortion backed by the full authority and power of the government less obvious to the average citizen… and I only say less obvious because the other option is handing over a fistful of physical cash money every time you drive through a toll plaza. If the state is going to continue to extort money from its citizens for things that have been long paid for and depreciated, it feels like the least they could do is make sure the back office is keeping the books right and not generating a daily email threatening to cut off your account for having a low balance when a quick look at the customer facing website shows there is very clearly both money in the account and a valid credit card from which to siphon more money as needed.

The black hole of the bureaucracy…

Any big bureaucratic organization worth its salt has a process covering just about everything you might need to accomplish during your regularly scheduled work period. If you’re lucky, some of those processes might even actually work despite inevitably being antiquated, creaking relics left over from the Eisenhower Administration.

More often, in my experience, the process that exists simply stops working at a certain point. Somewhere along the workflow there’s either a person or an individual who is the organizational equivalent of a super-massive black hole. Everything that crosses into the jurisdiction of this office or individual passes across some kind of bureaucratic event horizon from which not even light itself has the velocity to escape.

These places are, in the simplest terms possible, where projects, paperwork, and hope go to be extinguished. These are the places where the process, no matter how well intentioned or neatly diagramed, simply break down and prevent actual work from happening. They’re the very core essence of what it is to live and work in the bureaucracy.

If a staff officer is worth a damn, he’ll find ways to work around these dangerous sectors – identifying people who will play ball and allow him to navigate around the gravitational pull of broken processes. Eventually, though, the bureaucracy catches on to the fact that it’s being subverted. It lashes out with renewed fury to suck in all the paperwork that has heretofore managed to escape its grasping maw.

With no way around and faced with failing timelines if work is pushed through the process to its illogical conclusion, sometimes all even a seasoned bureaucrat can do is shrug, accept that nothing will ever be completed in a timely manner, and prepare for the inevitable, quasar-like explosion once the black hole has consumed more work product than it could possibly hope to process.

Look, I’m paid for the same eight hours whether shit gets done or not, so if you’d prefer the “or not” option, just let me know up front so I’ll know how much effort to apply to any given issue. That could have saved us all a whole bunch of time. In the meantime, if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here heaving products over the event horizon expecting to never see them again.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. There are a few topics where I could probably claim expert level knowledge. There are far more in which I am reasonably conversant. There are many in which I can fake competence if conversations don’t last too long. The secret to successfully using my big ol’ brain box is to turn me loose on something in one of those first two broadly defined areas. Setting me loose in the third and expecting expert level performance is just going to result in you being disappointed and me being even more annoyed… especially when there are any number of individuals within spitting distance whose baseline knowledge on the subject exceed my own in every possible way.

2. It’s good to see so many people caught up in the history of #DDay75… but my inner history geek wishes some of them would pay attention to history a little more closely when it’s not the anniversary of monumental events. They’d be amazed at what it could teach them… and maybe they’d even gain a little insight about why nine times out of ten I’m mostly sitting around muttering that “they’re really going to try that again.” In my heart of hearts I really do think if given half an education in history people would be stunned by how little new there is under the sun.

3. OK, so here’s the thing… When I lay out a process for you that’s guaranteed to work correctly 100% of the time and you opt to not follow that process and create your own circuitous route from Point A to Point B, don’t then call me whining because it didn’t work. What happened there isn’t a process problem. It was a pure failure to follow fucking directions problem and that puts it squarely in your lane rather than mine. Good luck with it.

Levels of review…

In my little corner of the Giant Bureaucratic Organization, very few pieces of paper ever move further than one’s own desk without passing through one or more layers of review. These reviews are almost the very definition of what it means to exist within the bureaucracy – the very reason the term “paper pusher” came into existence.

It’s hard enough to move a single piece of paper, say something as simple as a memo. The complexity and convolutions involved in getting something larger – say a document of several dozens of pages is mind boggling. It’s a herculean feat of bureaucratic mastery involving three layers of review at a bare minimum. I’ve personally seen the number of reviewers go as high as 14  on a single document. I’ve heard stories that the numbers can grow even larger as one progresses through echelons higher than reality towards the beating, five-sided heart of our bureaucratic empire. Each and every non-concur along the way carries the risk of sending you back to the starting block to try again.

I’m not saying that reviews are entirely pointless or without merit. In some cases I’d even argue that they are absolutely necessary. When it becomes the reviews themselves that drive the process rather what is being reviewed, I can’t help but believe that there is a flaw in the system. Then again, I’m a poor simple history major who learned to read original source documents that may have virtually no relationship to standard English usage so what the hell do I know. 

The shitstorm that didn’t…

Based on years of experience I’ve developed a pretty finely honed sense of when a shitstorm is brewing and about to unleash it’s sewer-tinged fury about my little part of the world. I walked out the office with my storm flags flying yesterday afternoon and fully expected to arrive back today to a feces coated disaster.

I was braced for it. I was ready. And then nothing happened. There wasn’t even a ripple. I don’t have any particular problem with being wrong. I’ve often enough turned left when I should have turned right. It happens.

It’s not so much that I’m upset that I was wrong today as it is that I know someday soon I’m going to be “not wrong” and the lid is going to come flying off the thunderpot. I’m not wrong that there’s a shitstorm brewing, just expected it to hit sooner rather than later. Now all I can do is hunker down and wait.

Buy American…

I was about to start this post by saying “I’m a simple man…” and then of course realized that despite my powers of written persuasion, not even I would buy that particular argument. I’m mostly an enigma even to myself, but that isn’t the point. At least that isn’t the point this evening. What I started this whole post to say is that it’s possible I’ve gotten entirely too accustomed to ordering something online and then having it show up at my door 24-48 hours later… or maybe 72 if I’m ordering from overseas. That fact that it happens so consistently is really a remarkable feat of logistics. It’s so remarkable that I’ve started taking it utterly for granted.

That is to say I took it for granted right up to the point where I’ve had a package sitting in Philadelphia waiting to clear customs since Wednesday of last week. Apparently because it’s “imported goods,” it now requires an FDA release prior to being released by Customs. Just one release use to be good enough to satisfy good old Uncle Sam, but in the best traditions of government, where one is good, two must be better.

What all that means, as far as I can tell is that instead of the 72 hours turn around I’ve grown accustomed to, getting something into the country now takes God knows how long. All things considered there are easier ways to convince people to buy American. As is now all you’ve really managed to do is set me thinking about ways to subvert the official process and still do what I want to do without technically being in violation of the law.

Inevitable…

The inevitable happened today. Somewhere at echelons higher than reality someone decided that there was a TPS Report that just couldn’t wait until after the holidays – that out there in the far reaches of our vast bureaucratic quagmire, some vital piece of information sure to bring democracy, peace, and justice to a troubled world was just laying around waiting to be reported upwards. Rank and high station may have their privileges, but getting dosed heavily by common sense isn’t among them.

What really happened today was a request for information was generated high in the stratosphere, it was typed into the computer and then passed to me “for action.” I immediately rolled my eyes, which is something I spend an inordinate amount of time doing if I can be perfectly honest. I then in turn typed my own message passing the requirement for this very important information down to the next level. When they receive it, someone will roll their eyes and ask what the fuck I’m smoking and then they will write up their own email and send it ever further down the line. Eventually it will reach the desk of some individual who knows at least some of the answer, they’ll write up a response, and then the whole great process gets thrown into reverse – with each level seeking out its own approvals, making a few changes, and then sending it upwards before an answer returns to my desk where I’ll realize that the answer-by-committee bears no resemblance to the question I asked originally. Because time has expired on the clock, that factoid won’t stop me from rolling my eyes and passing it on back up the chain.

It’s a clunky, archaic process at the best of times. Let me just say for the record, sending something out two days before Christmas and expecting a response immediately after the new year is not, by anyone’s definition, the best of times. What it is, however, is a recipe for a systemic failure at almost every level. It’s the operative definition of setting yourself up for failure.

But this is the season of yuletide, when a long dead saint rises up from his frozen tomb and alights onto his sleigh driven by eight super-natural reindeer to distribute toys constructed by enslaved elves to the world’s children. It’s the season of miracles like that… so if you just believe hard enough, maybe anything really is possible.