Keeping up appearances…

I had to host a meeting today. Those of you who have been following along for a while will know how I feel about meetings. In my 20 years of government service, I’d estimate that no more than five meetings I’ve attended couldn’t have been an email instead. All the information would have been conveyed and everyone would have saved big swaths of their day. Nevertheless, the powers that be demand that there be meetings, so meetings we shall have.

Today I hosted a meeting about the annual conference / boondoggle / waste of time that for reasons that defy any kind of human logic has lain on my desk for the last nine years. This meeting absolutely could have been an email. I talked about three schedule changes and a few administrative notes, asked for questions, and called a halt all within 16 minutes. It was still 16 minutes too many. 

The only reason I even scheduled this meeting was because there’s another meeting next week where my senior rater’s senior rater might possibly ask when we had the last working level meeting for this project. If this happens, I can say without any purpose of evasion that yes, we met just last week on this topic and all is well. 

The real work on this questionable exercise won’t start for about two months yet. Then the occasional meeting might be almost justified. For now, it’s mostly a function of keeping up appearances… and as we all know, in the belly of the bureaucracy, the appearance of productivity and accomplishment is far, far more important than actually achieving either those things. 

Sources and methods…

I consider myself fortunate to not be one of those people who has an unseemly love for hearing his own voice. Like Mr. Ed before me, I try to make it a policy to never speak unless I have something to say. It mostly leaves me free to observe people’s comings and goings, their small tics and tells, and generally to spend my time trying to read the room rather than just sitting there cobbling together whatever I want to say next.

Once I make whatever point I believe needs making, I’m perfectly happy to fade into the background as things play out to their logical or illogical conclusion.

The result of this long practice is that, to quote Jed Bartlet, “I hear things. I don’t understand most of it, but I hear it.” Hearing the things, over the course of being dragged into a multitude of meetings, having offhand conversations, and overhearing random comments in passing over the last two decades has proven to be a veritable treasure trove of information about this, that, or the other thing. The vast majority is information that may not prove useful today, but that’s available to dredge out of deep memory at the point where it may be useful.

The trouble with sitting on this vast amount of information ferreted away in dribs and drabs is that much of it was never presented for public consumption. The amount of great stuff I have to write about that’s being self-embargoed because I don’t want to burn my sources and methods is an absolute absurdity… but since using any of it overtly risks leaving me out in the cold, embargoed it shall (mostly) stay.

Maybe someday I’ll get around to writing another helpful guide – this time one on not just joining, but learning to survive decades in the bureaucracy. It’s not the worse idea I’ve ever heard.

In the end, they’re all Monday…

It’s Monday. Again. This morning, I reached deep into the cabinet where I store my fucks, but alas those shelves were bare. It’s a sad state of affairs that my increasing lack of fucks to give is even seeping into telework days now. Historically, it’s mainly been a problem reserved to those days when I’m required, for reasons defying logic and common sense, to schlep over to the office and sit with other people all day.

But here we are. Trying to come up with new and interesting ways to say what I’ve probably said 137 times here already. Gods, I’m not sure I could be less interested even if I put maximum effort into it. That’s probably some moral failing in me as a person. Meh. So what?

It’s probably a gift that I don’t have to be particularly interested in something to do it tolerably well. If it were otherwise, we could be in a real spot of trouble here. As it is, I’ll sit here with a dog sleeping on my feet, a cat trying to occupy the keyboard, and tinker about with some PowerPoint slides (while trying not to dwell too much on the four Monday equivalents left to go before my time is wholly my own again). 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 14 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 14 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.

The GOP. It’s been a hundred years since a majority party in the House of Representatives failed to elect a Speaker on the first ballot. It’s a level of ineptitude that would be shocking if it weren’t so entirely predictable among members of what passes for the Republican Party. Government is serious business for serious people – and this slimmest of majorities has led off the 118th Congress in the most embarrassing way possible in not being able to conclude the most basic step of leading that chamber without devolving into a useless conglomeration of cockwombles. My level expectation of them being able to do anything else over the next two years is less than nil. 

The rut. Once upon a time, I use to believe that you were supposed to come back to work after time off feeling refreshed and energized. Maybe others do, but I came back from my long Christmas break no more excited or motivated than when I left. If anything, the time away left me even less enthused by the day-to-day after two weeks of doing “not work.” It’s a rut, to be sure. Uncle’s gold-plated fetters make it unlikely that any real changes are in the offing, so getting my head around this just being how I’m going to feel for at least the next 12 years is… troubling.

Service disruption…

There was a planned water outage at our building today. Now there are a number of questions one could reasonably ask about that, such as why this long planned outage was scheduled to begin at 7:30 in the morning on a Wednesday instead of some time during the last two weeks when the building was occupied by little more than a skeleton crew. Wednesday, for anyone paying attention to the ebb and flow of the workforce, is generally the day when the building is most densely occupied. Planning work to impact the maximum number of people feels like some solidly piss poor government decision making. 

Additionally, cutting off the water supply to a building that’s still largely papered with signs reminding everyone to maintain social distance and to frequently wash their hands in order to help reduce the spread of viral illness, is one of those things that could be considered at least vaguely irresponsible. It doesn’t feel like being able to perform basic personal hygiene activities, such as using the restroom or washing your hands, should be something that echelons higher than reality decide we just don’t need to do for half the day or longer. 

Of course, there was a simple and obvious answer to how this known and planned on situation could have been handled. Someone at a responsible level of decision making should have been able to look at a planned lack of running water, an easy to project inability for people to perform simple hygienic and sanitary activities, and make a decision that “Hey, this might be a good day to minimize the number of people in the building and let the majority work from an alternate location for the day.” 

Unsurprisingly, the decision from management was that no, we were going to press on with business as usual. If there was ever a more neon flashing sign that the decision makers at echelons higher than reality have willfully opted to ignore the lessons of the last three years, I haven’t seen it… yet. 

We had a once in a lifetime chance to redesign how work – especially information work – gets done in this country and we’ve blown it up in favor of falling back to the management principles and philosophies of the 1950s. It’s completely telling that when a service disruption at home prevents me from performing my job, I’m expected to schlep over to the office or take the appropriate amount of leave… but when the office is unable to provide uninterrupted water service, I’m also expected to schlep into the office and act as if that’s just a normal thing to do instead of going to a place where all the utilities are functional for the day.

I’d pretend to be surprised, but no one would believe me.

The dread…

The dread I’m feeling about tomorrow being the end of my 17-day Christmas weekend is palpable. Without any scientific evaluation, it’s precisely why I think most heart attacks happen at the beginning of the work week. 

Despite none of the plans of the last two weeks playing out as expected, the time has been an absolute delight – seemingly endless hours stretching out surrounded by books, and animals, and range time, and generally doing whatever caught my fancy on any given day or hour. I imagine it’s a sample of how I’d spend my days if it wasn’t necessary to work in order to afford those things.

I’m jealous of those people who, it seems, find fulfillment in their jobs. More power to them. I don’t know that I’ll ever find it more than a rude, 8-10 hour interruption, keeping me from doing the things that are actually of interest. For good or bad, I’ve told every boss I’ve ever had that it’s just a job, not some kind of sacred calling – usually in response to their misguided questioning about my desire to move upwards through positions of “increasing responsibility.”

If I were going to embark on some uplifting holy quest, I promise you it wouldn’t be planning the best gosh darn conference ever, or writing the OPORD with the fewest spelling mistakes, or sending out the most taskers in a single day.

It’s job, not in any way to be confused with actual life. If you’re expecting me to be passionate about it, you’re looking in the wrong place and at the wrong guy. I’ll do it well because that’s why I’m getting paid. The minute I’m finished, though, it won’t even be a passing thought during the rest of my day.

I’ll schlep into the office tomorrow because it’s what keeps the lights on and the animals fed. I might even crack some jokes or make a few snarky comments while I’m there. I’ll create the necessary illusion of being interested and engaged. Uncle will get his money’s worth… but it’s never, ever going to be a place or activity I’ll run to with a smile on my face and song in my heart.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

It’s been an easy, work free week filled with book hunting… but there’s one thing worth mentioning. It’s the annoyance that keeps on giving and gets more and more inexplicable the longer it continues. Incompetence? Indifference? Inability? Yeah. The world may never know. So here’s the one thing in this week’s list:

AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 13 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 13 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.

Don’t expect a Christmas miracle…

Most parts of life, in my estimation, are about finding the proper amount of motivation. Whatever goofy shit you can’t find a way to avoid doing, requires at least some motivation to get through. For instance, I rarely actually want to do laundry… but I like having clean socks and underwear. See, that’s the motivation. 

As I sit here, with a mere 24 working hours between me and a 17-day weekend, let’s just say that motivation is more than a little hard to come by. Systems not working right? Fuck it. “Urgent” email asking things that have been answered three times already? Don’t care. Computer refusing to download a critical system patch that will result in the machine becoming unusable after Friday? Yup. That sounds like a January problem.

Look, I like getting paid on a regular basis. That’ll be all the motivation I need to muddle through the next three days… but it’ll be just that – a good old-fashioned pre-holiday muddle. Don’t waste your time looking for over and above. Disabuse yourself of the idea of it being a zero-defect environment. It’s the time of year when everyone’s just going to need to be satisfied that there’s a warm body here at all. Anything past that truly is a year-end bonus… or perhaps a Christmas miracle.

Four days…

The two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Years are usually the only time during the year I burn off a really big chunk of vacation time all in one sitting. Planning around the other various federal holidays, I’ll manage to sneak in a few week-long blocks, too, but Christmas is always the big one.

Some of my favorite bits of time off, though, are the stretched long weekends. Either extend a 3-day weekend or slip a day of leave in between a Tuesday or Thursday holiday and its corresponding weekend and hey presto you have yourself a nice mini vacation on the books with very little loss of leave involved. Spread enough of those around through the year and you can almost maintain what few scraps of sanity you’ve got. 

The Thanksgiving 4-day is probably the king of the bunch as far as I’m concerned. Unlike Christmas and its multi-day road stand and immense logistics tail, Thanksgiving politely contains itself to a single day for visiting, enjoying an oversized meal, and getting back home at a reasonable hour to sleep in my own bed. It’s a holiday distilled to its essence.

The three following days of no specified activities are just the sauce on top and I’m 100% here for it.

Long live the 4-day weekend.

They’re always self-inflicted…

One of the tasks that more or less defines my job was impossible to do this week until around 10:00 this morning thanks to a bit of software that had been migrated to a new and improved flavor last week and then promptly shit the bed.

Look, I don’t personally care. If Uncle wants me to do the work, he’ll make sure the systems and software all function. I can sit around twiddling my thumbs with the best of them. I am, after all, a highly seasoned bureaucrat. It’s the sort of thing that comes with the territory. 

The only catch is when systems are down for days on end, it tends to create a backlog and then when the boffins over in the IT office get sorted, the whole log falls directly on your head. That’s where we ended up on today – with at least three days of backlogged work in the queue plus whatever extra came in over the side before close of business. 

To at least one person, every bit of it was something ranging between “important” and “urgent.” To me, of course, it’s all just something to blast through as quickly as possible while trying to get about 80% of it tucked into the right places. If I’m being perfectly honest, since I read every single item that passed through my hot little hands today, I can tell you none of it was actually important, let alone urgent. It was mostly the living embodiment of the kind of electronic ephemera the bureaucracy passes around to continue justifying its own existence. It’s the kind of morass you really want to take a bit at a time rather than in anything resembling large chunks. 

It’ll get done – mostly because I don’t particularly want to deal with this particular hot mess again on Monday. It’ll get done, but I’ll piss and moan about it the entire time, because it’s just another wound we inflicted on ourselves for no discernable reason. If that doesn’t define government work, I don’t know what does.