Monday, June 16, 2008

Interns

It's summertime and that means one thing: it's intern season at FederalEntity! From June-August all of the empty cubicles in my office are stuffed with wide-eyed interns. It breathes energy into the cubicle wasteland that is my office - energy that instantly disappears when school starts back up again.

I'm not sure where we find our interns - I don't think we advertise for them on the internet or anything. But based on the kids we've had working here, I'd safely guess that we recruit through two ways: nepotism and community college.

Half of the interns we've ever had have "known someone". Their dad is connected to one of our policitos... Their aunt works in another office at FederalEntity and is owed a favor by my boss... Their family has donated thousands of dollars to the Republican party... I actually don't mind this class of intern - they tend to perform well, mainly because they have a "connection" they feel they have to make good on. The other half, I'm not really sure where they come from but we've had some weird ones. There was the guy who didn't talk to anyone and ate Cup-O-Noodles for breakfast every morning at 7:30 am. There was the Native American guy who could never help us out with anything because he was always working on special "Native American" related projects (which were not assigned by his bosses...). There was the Frat Boy who spent the whole summer talking about getting wasted, hitting on chicks, and "scheming" (note to self: I never did figure out what he meant by "scheming").

We've got six new interns this year. Unfortunately, I haven't met them all yet, but I'm sure I'll have at least one good story by the end of the summer just you wait.

What do our interns do all summer? I'm not exactly sure. All I know is I'm not allowed to make them do anything. They inevitably get stuck doing a handful of grunt work. Lots of surfing the internet, facebook, gmail, youtube, etc. The work we do in my office is far too technical to teach a summer intern, so they help out with loose odds and ends on projects, and take long lunch breaks. They get paid pretty well for their troubles - $13 an hour I believe, plus overtime and every other Friday off. All in all, not a bad gig.

Half of our interns this summer are part of a student-professional internship program. If they rack up 640 hours of Federal service before they graduate from college, we can hire them directly and immediately when they graduate. They don't have to wait in line like the rest of the world to get a Federal job. The required number of hours translates to 71 nine hour work days. These poor kids (soon to be college Seniors) will be working the whole summer with no days off, plus winter break, plus spring break to accumulate the required hours - in the hope that we hire them full time next May. There's no guarantee that we will hire them (and looking at staffing levels, we can't hire them all even if we wanted to...) so they're ruining their summer for the mere chance at becoming a Fed. Is it worth it? I don't think so, but one of the interns told me that his dream is to have a career at my FederalEntity. Reminds me of myself when I was in college!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Answers

The previous post has generated some interesting comments and questions (keep them coming!) Let’s take a look at some of them here:

Q: “Why are you still a Fed if it sucks so much??”
A: Read (among others): http://federalwasteland.blogspot.com/2008/03/trapped.html

Q: “You are a horrible person for writing this and [insert threat here]!!!”
A: If I were to summarize the major goal of this blog, it would be: "To present a realistic yet humorous view of the absurdities of the Federal Government". Yes, everyone already knows that the Government is inefficient and backwards in many ways. The anecdotes here are posted to "show" versus "tell" what everyone already knows. And yes, its also a good way for us to vent our frustrations after a long day of dealing with idiots. The feedback has been 99.8% positive (especially from other Feds). However, a few people seem to be upset by what we write. That confuses us. Are you pro-Government inefficiency? Are you pro-wasting- tax-dollars-on-employees-who-sleep -under-their-desk-while-stealing-$95k-a-year-of-your-hard-earned-money? Let us know your real concern and we’ll try to address it.

Q: “[Republicans] like you want to let Capitalism take over the Federal Government – and it will destroy us all!”
A: Unfortunately, we are not proposing any type of solution to fix the problem. If we had a good one, we’d be teaching at the Kennedy School or making millions as private consultants. We've laid this out there numerous times, but lets do it again: ours is the best Government in the world. And for every inefficient, wasteful coworker we have we can name another coworker who genuinely cares about their job, their mission, and their country. All we're advocating for is increasing the number of true "public servants" and decreasing the number of "Federal zombies waiting for retirement". We’ve been brainstorming ways to do this for the last three or so years… so far we’ve got nothing. In the meantime, please continue to read our blog for some funny anecdotes!

Q: “You said you want open discourse, why didn’t you publish my comment?"
A: Probably because you said our mothers were wh*res or something. Civil discourse, please!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

That's A Good Question...

If there’s one question that I’d really love to know the answer to it would be: “will I get fired for writing this blog?” Despite what one cantankerous comment board poster seems to believe, I don’t think I will. Allow me to explain:

1. This blog is not written by one person, but by a handful of Feds from different FederalEntities who are sick of watching the Government machine piss your tax dollars down the drain. The same nonsense happens anywhere you go in the Federal Government…

2. All of the names, ages, genders, positions, and specific details are significantly changed. This is for anonymity of both the writers and the subjects. Most posts also have red herrings thrown in just to spice things up. One commenter hinted that we were being libelous and could be sued. Our subjects likely wouldn’t even recognize their own stories…

3. Nothing posted here is top-secret or confidential. There has been no revealing of hidden Government secrets or anything like that. Sorry. Our coworkers probably find this blog boring – they already know everything we’re writing about! The juiciest this blog has ever gotten is simple hallway gossip. We’re just yelling this gossip through a megaphone (this blog = a very weak megaphone).

4. It’s all done on personal time. It’s really no different than keeping a personal diary at home. Can the Government fire someone for vaguely talking about how bad the Government is in their diary? Pretty sure that kind of speech is protected under the First Amendment.

5. It’s the Federal Government! Have you read any of the other posts?? It’s almost impossible to fire someone! The private sector is completely different – they can fire you for not wearing a necktie if they want. In the public sector it’s the opposite. I previously linked to an AP article about Federal purchase card fraud. If you recall, there was a Fed who charged thousands of dollars in personal dating services to the Government, downloaded porn on his work computer while at work – and he DID NOT GET FIRED! For serious! All we do is write a blog. From our homes.

6. The Government Unions. They love to fight for the employees. Federal Employees fired for informing the public about how messed up their taxpayer-funded workplace is? Sounds like a whistleblower case to me. Oh man, they would love to sue the Government for that! In fact, I’m sure any lawyer reading this just creamed their pants!

There are about 15 more reasons that come to mind, but who cares about that. What do you, gentle reader, think? Feel free to comment here. Please note the new comment policy – if you are a jerk in your comment, it will be removed. FederalWasteland is all about open discourse. Just don’t be a d-bag. Thanks in advance!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Guest Post!

My hope for this blog is to have it evolve from me squawking about my ridiculous Federal Government experiences, blossoming into a meeting place for Feds, contractors, and taxpayers alike to squawk about their ridiculous Federal Government experiences - together! Step 1 (me squawking) has been accomplished. Welcome to step 2 - where you the reader get to help tell the story! So, if you have any thoughts about the Feds you would like to share with the world, write it up and email it to federalwasteland (at) blogspot (dot) com. Hopefully one day, you'll see your words posted here!

Without further ado, here is the first ever Federal Wasteland guest post! It comes from an anonymous Fed somewhere in Washington, DC - this story is so right on the money it hurts... Enjoy!
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The lifelong federal government employee is concerned first and foremost with maintaining the illusion that s/he never has and never will make a mistake. This is accomplished through a mixture of passing the buck, documenting with hard e-mail or paper evidence every move that s/he makes, and swiftly pointing fingers at a co-worker when the possibility of a mistake is laid at his or her feet.

This week, a project I am on with a questionably competent person who is a little above me and a new-to-the-division and also questionably competent attorney who is more above me has ramped up. The management and communication between “team” members has been poor throughout, and the tasks I have been asked to do have ranged from demeaning to duplicative to unbelievably demeaning (I was actually asked to print a document out for someone today!). The eternally frustrating thing about being on the lowest level of this chain of incompetence is that you cannot point out your superiors’ many mistakes but have to endure their insistence on passive-aggressively noting yours.

The mid-level person, who I will call the Airhead Bureaucratte (because she is female), asked me and a colleague to go about an assignment in a way that sounded counter-productive. In fact, my colleague and I remarked on how the nature of her request actually imputed her own mental functionality, so we called her back to clarify what she had asked. Indeed, she said, go ahead and do this job the nonsensical way she had outlined.

The next day, I come into work and find I am being sought by the attorney who manages me and the Airhead Bureaucratte. The frazzled and unabashedly irritable attorney comes down to my office—which she rarely does, because, being the lowest on the totem pole, I am expected to always report physically up to them—and tells me and my colleague that we had done something differently than from what Airhead Bureaucratte told us. We were sure we had heard Airhead Bureaucratte’s directions correctly, because we had been so confused by how bizarrely counter-intuitive they were.

Despite our supposed inability to follow directions, this team still needs us badly on the case, so badly that the attorney insisted on dragging us up to her office (of course) for a giant task-in-order meeting and immediately apologized for blowing up at us just about an hour earlier. The kicker is, she told us that in dealing with Airhead Bureaucratte, we should repeat back the instructions we have been given, so she can recognize whether what she has asked us to do is totally crazy. “Just ask Airhead Bureaucratte if she is sure she is asking you to do something that makes sense,” this attorney told us.

Well, the other thing lifer bureaucrats hate is having it insinuated that they are wrong or unclear in any way, though many of them are consistently both things. So I am now supposed to screen every work request from Airhead Bureaucratte based on how batsh-t crazy it seems, while somehow trying to maintain the veneer that she knows what she’s talking about (because she never makes mistakes!), even though I know that I must look at her as if everything that is coming out of her mouth is spoken in an alien tongue.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Anything But Work

The Gallup Organization did a study that found a strong correlation between workplace satisfaction and "having a best friend at work". At first it seems like an odd connection, but it really makes sense to me. Most people hate their jobs, but if you have a friend to share your misery with its much more manageable! I'm lucky - in my office here at FederalEntity there are a handful of similar-minded, young government muppets who I can commiserate with. We spend, on average, 1.5 hours every day doing so.

Over the past three years, our clique has devised numerous ways to help the hours go by faster. I'll go into a couple of them here.

1. Terrible Tie Tuesday - I happen to have an impressive collection of terrible neckties. My coworker John does too. Every Tuesday for the past 4 weeks we've had a competition to see who has the worst necktie. Week 1 his reversible Xmas lights/Valentine's Hearts beat out my purple and brown hand-painted drop cloth tie. Week 2, my bright yellow and green tie with little pints of Guinness drawn all over it bested John's tie which was covered in little ducks. Week 3, his hand-sewn glossy green tie that was a foot and a half too long was defeated by my red tie featuring a huge picture of a little boy peeing into a lake. Yesterday my retro 60's heavily-stained yellow and green paisley tie lost to his navy tie with a giant hand-painted panda. So it's tied 2-2. The pressure is on for next week! I enjoy Terrible Tie Tuesday because it gives me something to look forward to on Tuesday (other than going drinking after work). Plus, there's something exciting about walking into an important meeting full of government bigwigs wearing a tie that features a picture of a little boy peeing.

2. Office Baseball / Mini-Golf - I have collected a fantastic assortment of stress balls during my time here, which are perfect for workplace diversions. Aside from throwing them at coworkers, these stress balls are great for baseball and mini-golf. If you dismantle a file cabinet, you'll find that there are several pieces of metal that are similar in length to a baseball bat or golf club. Give it a try, I'll wait... See how easy that was? Office baseball is pretty self-explanatory - have someone pitch the stress balls at you, and try to hit them as far as you can with the "bat". Bonus points if your hit knocks anything over. For office mini-golf, just put a coffee mug on the floor on its side. Then go to the other end of the office and see how many strokes it takes you to hit the stress ball into the mug. More than the competition itself, the looks that your coworkers give you as you "putt" a stress ball with a big piece of metal right outside of their cubicle are what makes these games so entertaining.

3. Cubicle Fortifications - If you share a cubicle wall with someone, you know how annoying it can be at times. You hear them on the phone. You hear them listening to music. They sneeze and you feel like you're instantly covered in their germs. You live in constant fear that they could throw something over the cubicle wall and hit you. If only there was some way to protect yourself! One day in a fit of boredom, I shot my former coworker Kevin with a rubber band over the cubicle wall that separated us. When I came into work the next day, Kevin had constructed a cardboard castle (with drawbridge) on top of the thin cubicle wall that separated us. The inter-cubicle aggression quickly escalated and so did the castle. Fences made out of office supplies, catapults, siege ladders, a giant turret, sand, fighter jets, plastic cowboys battling plastic fish - it was quite a battle scene. Our castle became so ridiculous that we were convinced that upper management would scold us for blatantly not doing work. Much to our surprise, when our director walked by our cubes after the castle had been built his only response was "oh, a castle." Kevin moved to another office, and the castle came down. He still has the main castle piece up in his new cubicle. The common response he gets when people see it is "Oh, a castle. Did your child make that?"

4. Prank wars - This will be the subject of my next post.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Governmentium

The following was submitted to me by a reader in California. I didn't write it, but I like it, so I'm putting it up. Any of you Feds out there, if you have an absurd story that you'd like to see posted here for the world to see, please write it up, send it to me and I'll post it. Just be sure to mask who you are and where you work. Submissions to: federalwasteland (at) gmail (dot) com. Rockin!
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The New Element

Recent hurricanes and gasoline issues are proof of the existence of a new chemical element. Research has led to the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.

A minute amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second to take anywhere from four days to four years to complete. Governmentium has a normal half-life of two-six years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration.

This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass. When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium, since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Evicted!

This Friday I'm being evicted.

From my cubicle. And my job.

I've mentioned previously that I'm currently on a rotation (or "detail" as the Feds say) to another office. I was given a 4 month stint working as a representative of my FederalEntity to the Politicos. It's been a pretty cool experience - I've met some powerful people, learned some interesting things, schmoozed with the bigwigs for a bit. Unfortunately, my 4 month rotation is being cut a month short. On Friday, it's back to my old job...

These rotations are designed to be "learning experiences". They're intended to help breed well-rounded, experienced Federal employees for future management roles. Why then would they cut my developmental experience a month short?

The Answer: The summer intern they just hired needs a place to sit.

I am not even kidding you here, they need to free up a cubicle for the summer intern so they're ending my rotation a month early and kicking me to the curb. It's beyond frustrating. I went on rotation hoping to learn as much as I could. To have my learning experience cut short is a bummer. To have it truncated for such a lame reason - well, it kinda makes me want to quit...

Like a lot of things in the Federal Government, that's just the way it is. The summer intern is the son of a bigshot here at FederalEntity - of course he gets priority over me! As you can see from this official diagram, I am at the very bottom of the totem pole:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Biggest Waste of Time?

There have been three “events” at work in the past few weeks that have been a bit puzzling. I’ve been trying to decide which one is the most pointless, the biggest waste of time, and the most egregious use of taxpayer dollars. It’s a pretty close call:

1. Community Involvement Day! Last month, our office had a “get involved in the community” celebration. Half of our staff went to help at an elementary school; the other half went to clean up a park. These events ran from 8 am to 1 pm (6 hours of free pay!), and I’d venture to say that nobody did any work when they got back. As a taxpayer, I can’t say that I’m happy that so many employees were blatantly not doing their jobs for an entire day and still getting paid. The silver lining: I’ll admit, I had fun cleaning up the park (picking up garbage is more fun than being stuck in the Federal Wasteland).

2. Relaxation Workshop! Imagine 50 government workers sitting around a large conference room table, taking an hour long nap. This was the scene at the relaxation workshop. Another office at my FederalEntity hired an alternative medicine guru to run a meditation program for their employees. There were extra spots so my coworkers and I attended. For the first 10 minutes I couldn’t stop laughing, that’s how ridiculous the scenario was (the guru kept telling us to “relax our genitals”). One guy fell asleep almost immediately and started snoring! After 30 minutes, I too found my Zen place and dozed off for a bit. It was totally relaxing, but I’m not sure if it was a wise investment of taxpayer dollars, especially since this particular seminar was part of a six class series! The silver lining: if I’m ever caught sleeping at my desk, I can just say that I’m “implementing the meditation strategies learned at the relaxation workshop”.

3. Management Retreat! Twice a year, the high level managers get together for 2-3 days to discuss why our office is a sinking ship. The answer, of course, is “bad management”, but they never seem to reach this conclusion... Hmm… The retreat is not held in our building, nor is it held in any of the thousands of hotel conference centers in Washington, DC. Oh no, these are the big time brass, they hold their retreat at a facility that’s a 3 hour drive away. That way, they get to spend the night, they get per diem pay, and they get reimbursed for mileage. And let me tell you, the places they hold these retreats at are more like resorts than hotels! I think I’m more jealous than angry. I want to get paid to sit around all day doing nothing! Oh wait… well… I want to get paid to sit around all day doing nothing at a resort! The silver lining: the management retreat is this week, so it’s been very quiet in my office. No pointless assignments, no unnecessary meetings, just plenty of time for me to implement the skills I learned at the relaxation workshop!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The CC: Wars

In the past two days, I've been caught in the crossfire of two cc: wars. CC: of course is net slang for "carbon copy" or "courtesy copy" on an email. When I write an email, I try to send it to as few people as possible - only those directly involved in the issue. Many of my coworkers choose to cc: everyone they know on almost every email they write.

My one coworker Henry is the worst offender - he's responsible for one of the two cc: wars this week. Henry will write an email to someone and cc: pretty much our entire staff. The recipient will inevitably respond (by hitting "reply-to-all" - how are they to know that everyone else is pointlessly cc'd?), starting the cc: war! Henry will respond in turn, again hitting "reply-to-all" to fan the flames. The volleys continue on for days, sometimes weeks while everyone on the cc: list just sits there silently as their inbox gets massacred.

There are three main reasons why people here overuse the cc: 1. to prove to everyone that they're "doing work", 2. they don't understand how use email, and 3. to shirk accountability.

Reasons 1 & 2 aren't surprising based on the monkeys I work with. Reason 3 is tied to the hierarchical structure of all FederalEntities. Nobody wants to be held accountable for anything, ever. Nobody wants to have their name attached to a decision. Workers pass issues to their staff directors, who raise them to their directors, who send them to the big bosses, who convene workgroups to gather as much input from as many sources as possible -- all hoping that the issue will just die or resolve itself before a decision has to be made. Even "experts" don't use their expertise freely - nearly everything gets sent through the chain.

The best bosses can streamline the b-s, smothering the smaller issues and only elevating the really important stuff. But my office (nay, the Government) is full of horrible managers. Everything becomes an "important issue" that requires someone else to make the call. Everything requires feedback from a million different sources. Nobody wants to take the fall if things go bad so when an issue comes up, they cc: a thousand people on it hoping that it will help to spread the eventual blame.

My friend Ben works in the private sector as a contractor to the Federal Government. He's repeatedly mentioned to me that decision-making is the opposite there (not always, but as a general rule). In the private sector, managers are trying to carve out their niche. They want to claim their territory. Project leaders love their power, and try to shield it from others so they can reap all the glory (bonuses?) that comes with success. There's a real sense of ownership to the work, and it's all done in an effort to get ahead - to climb the ladder. Here at FederalEntity, ownership only leads to blame and retribution, and moving up the ladder is hardly based on accomplishments - whats my motivation to attach my name to any decision??

Ben gets maddeningly frustrated when he works on a contract for any FederalEntity. He'll make some small decisions, show them to the Federal project officer for concurrence, and that project officer will send it up the chain, making a mountain out of a molehill. Working with the Federal Government must feel like driving on the Autobahn stuck behind a car going 35 mph.

Henry's cc: wars will undoubtedly continue unless I do something drastic (and it needs to be more creative than replying-to-all with "unsubscribe."). My coworker John came up with a good solution to the cc: madness. A few months back his staff director yelled at him for NOT cc'ing her on an unimportant email chain, upset that he wasn't keeping her "in the loop". For the next week or so, he cc'd her on every single message he sent. She promptly changed her opinion.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Purchase Card Issue

I'm sure you've all heard about the recent GAO report that investigated Government Purchase Card mis-use and abuse. There's been this big uproar over the use of Government purchase cards by Federal employees who used your tax dollars to pay for all kinds of ridiculously inappropriate items, from lingerie to gambling debts and car payments.

(If you've been living under a rock, you can catch up on the debacle by reading this.)

I have a Government credit card, but I do not have a purchase card. My Government credit card is used for travel purposes only. I put my flights and hotel expenses on it, and not much else. It's a restricted use card - it only works at specific types of vendors (hotels, airlines, restaurants) so I couldn't use it to say, buy a prostitute over the internet. Even if I did buy something non-work related on it, the monthly bill comes to my house in my name and I'm responsible for paying it off (travel reimbursement shows up automatically in my paycheck, I then write a personal check to the credit card company). That way, I'm accountable for whatever I buy on it.

Purchase cards are different. Purchase cards bill the FederalEntity directly, not the person placing the order. The holder of the card obligates the Government to pay for the goods or services requested as soon as the card is swiped. Theoretically, these purchases are signed off on by managers, but as the GAO report found, the oversight is crappy at best.

My coworker Frank (see description to left) holds the purchase card for our office. Scary thought, isn't it? He's an honest, good-hearted man and would never do anything absurd like order Russian caviar for a retirement party, but there's basically nothing to stop him if he wanted to. One time, a coworker needed two AA batteries for a desktop calculator. She asked Frank to order them with the purchase card. For some reason, Frank bought 500 batteries. It was an honest mistake, but there was nobody in the approval chain who thought to question why our office needed hundreds of dollars worth of AA batteries. The purchase was authorized, the government paid the bill, and an entire shelf in our supply closet was filled with batteries that we had no use for. (Side note: people began stealing the batteries for personal use, so they are now locked up in the Director's office).

I've been reading all of the articles on this purchase card issue, including the responses from Congress ("This must be stopped! We had no idea! Blah blah blah!"). By far, my favorite snippet is this:

"Another fraud case involved the U.S. Postal Service, where an unidentified postmaster used his card to charge $1,100 over a 15-month period for "various online dating services" while he was under investigation for viewing pornography on a government computer. The employee worked out an agreement to remain on sick leave until he retired in 2007 and paid back the money spent on the dating services, according to the GAO report and a Postal Service spokesman."

He looked at pornography while at work, got caught, was placed under investigation, then had the cojones to pay for online dating subscriptions with his Government purchase card! Got caught for that... and he DIDN'T EVEN GET FIRED!!! Talk about job security.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Workplace Safety

Ever have one of those days where you're so stressed out and frustrated that you come close to lashing out at your coworkers? Ever have the fear that your supervisor might catch you at a bad moment and trigger a psychotic episode? Ever have brief lapses of sanity at work where you almost quit on the spot, smash your computer, flip off your boss, and storm out the front door? Well, what if there was an office warning system - a way to inform those around you that you're about to explode so they don't unknowingly trigger a "workplace incident"?

Thanks to my coworker Mac, now there is. I present to you the "Federal Employee Threat Level Advisory System":

(click the image for a higher-res. version that you can print!)

Mac spent the past 8 months stuck in a situation many Feds are all too familiar with - working for absolutely horrible bosses. In Mac's case, his bosses were "spinners". Spinners are bosses who have no clue what's going on, but whenever an issue arises they spin around really fast in a circle, stirring up tons of paper, and making a lot of noise so that it looks like they're doing something. In reality they're just making a huge mess of the situation. They create endless hoops for their staff members to jump through and generally piss off everyone who DOES understand what's going on.

Having incompetent bosses is enough to drive one to the verge of quitting. Having incompetent bosses who can never be fired and will likely be promoted... that's enough to make one go Postal. (Sidenote: Isn't it interesting that the phrase to describe the most extreme act of flipping out on your coworkers, going "Postal", is derived from Federal employees who actually flipped out on their coworkers??). Mac thought it was only fair to inform his coworkers and bosses how close he was to lashing out.

So Mac created the Federal Employee Threat Level Advisory System, and put it right outside of the entryway to his cube. He would mark his status with a magnet, and he would update it throughout the day based on how he was feeling. Normal resting status was "elevated", and quite frequently I saw it reach the "severe" level. It was an amazingly effective way of telling his bosses just how annoyed he was with them. And if a boss saw that he was at "severe", they probably thought twice before pestering him with a pointless assignment.

After 8 months of being managed by a group that was "dumber than monkeys" as he put it, Mac fled to another office. His legacy remains though, as several of my coworkers have adopted the Federal Employee Threat Level Advisory System. And now I'm passing it on to you, gentle reader. Print it out and give it a try! If you're a Fed, you'll find that it works wonders! (Warning: If you work in the private sector, you'll probably be reprimanded or fired.)

Remember, safety is everyone's responsibility!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Invincible.

Thanks to all the new readers! Keep spreading the word! And to all you Feds who are reading this, get back to work!

I'd like to share with you the story of my coworker Pauline. Now, there are lots of people here who don't do much work and get paid lots of money. But Pauline's Salary:Work ratio is by far the best (conservatively $135,000 to 0.000001). And she's invincible. Allow me to elaborate.

Pauline was hired as a staff director about 7 years ago. She was a manager of 4-5 employees and was in charge of some pretty high-profile stuff. Trouble was, Pauline wasn't good at her job and she was a terrible manager. She messed up every project she was given. She tortured her staff members. She created havoc for other managers who had to work with her. It was not a good scene. All but one of the employees who worked for her jumped ship after the first 6 months.

The head boss in our office realized that Pauline had to be dealt with. No one throughout the ranks could stand to work with her. So her bosses started going through the motions and collecting the proper information to start the "termination" process. Pauline found this out and ran straight to the Union and the Equal Employment Opportunity folks to file a workplace grievance. Apparently the EEO office and the Union bought the "I didn't do anything, everyone else in the world just hates me!" excuse, and they jumped in to fight for her.

Once the Union and EEO folks get involved, forget about it. The process becomes so bogged down in mediation sessions and union proceedings that the person becomes untouchable. If you fire them, the FederalEntity gets hit with a lawsuit and usually a 6 or 7 figure settlement payout.

The Union negotiated for Pauline and instead of being fired, she was reassigned as a "special assistant". She would continue to work on projects in the office, but would have no managerial responsibilities. And just to avoid future conflicts, they negotiated a clause into Pauline's settlement wherein she could reject any work assignments that she didn't want to do (in case her bosses tried to assign her horrible projects as revenge).

Seven years later, Pauline still works here! She has her own office with a door (which is always closed), but sometimes I see her in the halls. She comes to every holiday party, loads up on food, and then leaves. I'd estimate that she comes in no more than 10 hours a week. The bosses don't give her any work to do because a) she'd just mess it up and b) she would probably just refuse the assignment anyway. Absolutely NOTHING is expected of her. How can she fail when the bar is set at zero? She's invincible!

Don't worry, American taxpayer, she still receives her managerial level GS-15 salary. Actually, be very very worried.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

You're Fired!

In my time at FederalEntity, I've encountered over 100 people who I've felt should be fired immediately. From sleeping under desks to selling bootleg DVDs; from looking at pornography while at work to not even coming to work at all - I am surrounded by a sea of underachievers who would have been given the boot ages ago if they worked in the private sector. It's nearly impossible to fire a Fed, though. In 2.5 years, we've successfully gotten rid of 2 people on my staff (out of 20 who deserve it) and believe me, the process is long and painful. Their stories are below:

1. Sarah the Crazy Secretary - Sarah was a secretary on in our division. I only met her once, and fortunately never had to work with her. My coworkers John and Jessie were not so fortunate. Apparently Sarah wasn't just crazy, she was vicious. Even a simple hello would elicit a mean response. If you asked her to do some basic aspect of her job (filing, for example) she might snap at you. She probably did it to frighten people - thinking it would keep them from asking her to do anything (it worked). The tasks she did take on were completed incorrectly and past deadline. She had behaved this way for years, but this wasn't enough to fire her.

Keep in mind, doing your job poorly isn't grounds for being fired. Maybe the expectations weren't clear? Maybe you were never provided the necessary skills or resources to complete the task? Maybe you can attribute it to "everybody makes mistakes!"? Of course, those are all BS excuses, but they actually work in the Federal Government. You may not have done your job correctly, but at least you tried! How can you fire someone for trying??

From what I've gathered with Sarah the Crazy Secretary, she was finally done in for two reasons. First, she eventually stopped trying. When she was given a task by her manager, she would outright refuse to do it. As in "no, I will not even attempt to do the most basic elements of my job". This is not easy to prove, however. Staff members had to document when they had assigned her work and if the work was completed correctly / at all. This went on for months and months before they had enough "proof" that she wasn't doing her job!

The second reason she got fired: She was crazy and created an unsafe work environment. This next part is going to sound like a lie, but I promise it's not. Sarah would post biblical passages outside of her cubicle. The passages she posted were the ones where God enacted his fiery revenge upon evil sinners. But she would replace the names of those sinners with the names of her bosses. Imagine being a boss and seeing your name in a re-written biblical passage outside of your secretary's cube!

("And God smote Bill Johnson, sending him to the eternal fire pits of Hell to be tortured for an eternity!")

Towards the end, she would go into her boss' office and just scream at him. She was heard on more than one occasion calling him a "plantation owner". Yeah, it went there. They fired her a few days before Christmas. Armed security guards came to her desk with an empty box, gave her 20 minutes to pack, and then escorted her out of the building. Her picture was posted at every entrance of the building so that all of the security guards knew not to let her in. That evening, the guards escorted her boss to his car as a precaution, lest she be lurking in the bushes.

I wish that's where the story ends, but it isn't. Sarah appealed her firing - saying that it was racially motivated. The Union jumped in to fight for her. Despite the mountains of evidence against her, Sarah won her appeal and had the "firing" expunged from her record (it now just looks like she quit). I'm not sure if she won any money in the settlement, but it's a very real possibility. Even scarier, she may very well be working at another FederalEntity.

2. Firing #2 is shorter and less interesting. I don't even remember the guy's name (doesn't matter, all the names/genders on this blog are made up anyways). He sat in a cubicle sort of near mine - it was down the hall and around a corner. He always came to work, but I could never figure out what his job was. I think it had something to do with ordering office supplies. There were rumors that he had gotten into screaming matches with several bosses, but I always found him to be quiet and pleasant. He was the #1 fan of my motivational mirror!

It was a known fact that he had severe mental health issues and he took long periods off for "health" reasons. I think it eventually got to the point where his mental state was preventing him from doing anything. My staff director had been diligently gathering evidence and when the case was strong enough called a meeting with him. The proposition was laid out: "Here are the facts. I'm about to file the papers to start your termination process. If you don't want to go through with all that, you can quit and it won't show on your record that you were 'fired'". The guy knew that he hadn't been doing his job, so he agreed to "quit" and that was that.

After recounting those two stories, I'm actually a little depressed. It's so hard to hire good people. It's nearly impossible to fire the worst people. If that's not the recipe for a sinking ship I don't know what is...

There are, of course, a number of offenses that can get you fired right away - stealing Government property, physically assaulting someone while at work, selling secrets to a foreign country, etc. but unfortunately the people who deserve to get fired know better than to do any of those.

I guess the question that remains to be seen is: can I be fired for writing this blog? It would be an interesting court case, that's for sure. Just to be on the safe side, do me a favor - if you think you know who I am or where I work, keep it a secret when you send the blog to your friends. Thanks!

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Few Words

I started writing this blog for two reasons:

1. I get really bored at work.
and
2. I've been frustrated, scared, shocked, confused, and appalled on a daily basis since I started working here at FederalEntity and wanted to shout from a mountaintop.

You probably come to this site because you're looking for a laugh (there's one hidden somewhere on this site, I hope you find it!). But to be honest, that's only 20% of the reason I post here. My main goal is to inform and enrage.

This site has been read by folks at over 25 different FederalEntities (yes, I'm keeping track) - from the big ones (FBI, CIA, DOJ) to the small (some random military groups, NOAA, USDA). The common response is: "It's the same at my FederalEntity!"

The Federal Government is supposed to serve the American public. Federal Employees are civil servants, working for the greater common good. If my posts can broadcast one clear message to the country, I hope its: Things aren't looking that great.

All of my horror stories are true. And they're all being funded with YOUR tax dollars, so it should piss you off just as much as it makes you laugh. And it's only going to get worse unless there are some drastic changes to how FederalEntities conduct business.

So, gentle reader, I ask this of you: Keep reading and keep telling your friends. Post the link on message boards (shout-out to TheNest in Ohio!). Send it to your parents, your ex-boyfriends, and your local newspapers alike.

I love this country, and I think that our FederalEntities still do a lot of good work for millions of Americans. But as a taxpayer, I'll never be content when I find a coworker sleeping under her desk!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Missing!

One of my tasks while on rotation will be to scan thousands and thousands of documents into PDF files. Glamorous work, I know. Before I can start this task, I need to get some special software from our computer security guy, Marc. Trouble is, Marc is never around.

I don’t mean “never around” like “he’s so busy and running all over the place doing a million different tasks that it’s hard to grab his attention”. I mean “never around” like “the guy never comes to work – ever”.

Marc is in a unique situation – he has no team leader or staff director - his supervisor is the head honcho, our division director. The division director is far too busy to check up on him and Marc takes advantage of this by NEVER coming to work.

How does he possibly get away with this, you might ask? First off, Marc deals with computer security, so nobody can figure out exactly what his job is and if it’s being done or not. Second, he uses the perfect excuse: “I’ve been in the server room doing security installs”. The server room is somewhere in another building and nobody really knows where it is or how to check up on him. Third, he has a Blackberry so he can answer essential emails from wherever it is that he goes all day – although it should be noted that he doesn’t answer 90% of his emails, only the really really important ones from the bosses.

For curiosity’s sake, I decided to keep a “Marc sighting” tally for the first two months of this year. I would find excuses to walk by his cube once or twice a day just to see if he was there. I saw him a grand total of 4 times in January and February combined! No I am not making this up. At that rate, he’ll only be at work 24 days this year! But don’t worry; he’ll still collect every penny of his GS-13 salary ($82,961 of your tax dollars, if you’re keeping score at home)!

Ok, so we’ve gathered that he only comes to work twice a month, but what does he do with all of his free time? After almost 3 years of investigative work, my coworkers and I have determined that he sells jewelry on e-Bay. Really expensive jewelry that he flies to Europe to buy and then resells. He also works at a high end jewelry store in Virginia. Being a Government worker is his third job!!

How did Marc get to this awesome situation? Well, he started off as a computer contractor at FederalEntity. My bosses tell me that as a contractor, Marc was a superstar! He came in early, stayed late, did his work with speed and precision, and was always asking for more tasks to complete and ways to help out! Then, he got offered a permanent position on staff as a Federal employee and everything changed. (Side note: Federal contractors can be fired at a moment’s notice; Federal employees… are practically immortal). As soon as he knew that he couldn’t get fired, he stopped doing work.

When I first started here, my team leader told me that Marc was being watched closely by the head honchos and that he was on thin ice. Nearly 3 years later, and he’s still up to the same shenanigans. It’s so painfully difficult to fire a Fed that I think management has just given up…

It makes me mad though. Not because he makes a ton of money to do nothing (so do all Feds, he's just being honest about it), but because I still need to get this one piece of software from him so I can begin my scanning project! I’ve sent him 4 emails, left him 3 voicemails, and have stopped by his cube twice a day for the last 2 weeks – and have yet to see any indications that the man is still alive. I even left a big note on his keyboard that said “please call me” about a week ago. It has not yet been touched! Lets be honest, I didn’t really want to scan those thousands of documents anyways.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trapped

Two weeks ago, I was at lunch with 4 of my coworkers/peers at FederalEntity. We’re all bright, hard-working 20-somethings who have been stuck at FederalEntity for the past 2.5 years or so. As we ate, we went around the table taking turns describing how we felt trapped. Each one of us has been looking for a new job for at least the last 8 months, in some cases (me) much longer than that. We’ve all been presented with amazing opportunities within FederalEntity (rotations, new jobs, grad school classes, increased responsibilities, etc.) and we’ve all then had these opportunities ripped away from us at the last minute. In essence, we’ve all been screwed by the system.

The main theme of lunch that day was clear: we all want out, but…

It’s like there’s some weird unknown force that’s keeping us stuck here. Judging by my older co-workers who have been here for 20-30+ years, this place is like being caught in quicksand. Every “lifetime” Fed says the same thing – they came in thinking they’d try Government work for a few years, and next thing they knew 30 years had flown by and they were still here!

The Government is tricky like that. You come in when you’re young and you don’t get paid that much. But the work/life balance is great and every year you get an automatic 8-12k raise. After 5 years you realize that you’re grossly overpaid but have no relevant skills that would help you to make the same salary in the private sector. Then it’s decision time: you’re in your late 20’s getting paid lots to do very little – do you give it up to go to the private sector (doing more work for less $), or do you keep coasting on the Federal wave for the next 25 years and then retire?

I keep telling myself there’s NO WAY I’ll stick around here forever, but (cliché) that’s literally what they all say…

Who from the lunchtime group will escape and who will get trapped? At this point, it's unclear. Now its crunch time for all of us - in a year, it’ll be too late. We’ll be stuck like mice on a glue trap.

(stuck at FederalEntity - even gnawing off your limbs won’t help)

My 3-year anniversary is in June. I know one thing for certain: if I make it through year 4, I’m toast.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stop! Thief!

Yesterday, my lunch was stolen from the office fridge. This isn't the first time that my lunch has been swiped, and it probably won't be the last. Our office has been plagued (for the last 10 years, so I'm told) by a mysterious refrigerator thief.

After 2.5 years of gathering info on the fridge thief, here's his Modus Operandi.
-The fridge thief does not appear to follow any regular patterns. Sometimes he steals items that have been left in the fridge for a long time. One time, he snagged my coworker Jessie's frozen lasagna only an hour or two after she had put it in the freezer.
-He seems to have strange taste - my boss has had several cups of "Diet-Jello" stolen. The only thing sicker than eating diet Jello is stealing someone else's diet jello and eating it.
-He's totally gross - Another coworker reported that the fridge thief picked all of the pieces of chicken out of her grilled chicken salad leftovers.
-He cooks/eats/disposes of his stolen goods in a different kitchen. I've actually searched the kitchens on other floors and gone cube to cube looking in everyone's trash cans trying to find my missing yogurt cups. To no avail.

The suspects:
- The Cleaning Crew - My boss loves to blame them because there are about 50 of them who wander the halls all day and they don't make much money. This is a possibility, although to my knowledge, nobody has ever seen a cleaning person ruffling through the fridge. They have no excuse to be going through the fridge in the first place, so one incident would be enough evidence to catch them. Plus, this food stealing has been going on for over 10 years, and I doubt any member of the cleaning staff has been here for that long.
- The autistic Photo Copy Boy - People often accuse him because he doesn't "know better". I doubt that it's him, because Photo Copy Boy eats McDonalds for breakfast AND lunch almost every day. No, I am not exaggerating.
- Chuck - Rumor has spread that this guy is the fridge thief. He's just a regular Federal employee who works on my floor. He's been around for a long time, and probably makes $90k a year. He's really nice, but realllllly weird. And he's been caught in two "suspicious" food incidents. One time, a woman caught him eating her yogurt. When confronted, he said that he brings the same kind of yogurt to work, and he thought that it was his (sounds plausible). Another time, he was caught trying to hide an entire tray of donuts in the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink. The donuts were put out for public consumption in the kitchen, and he was trying to hoard them all! Under the sink! Behind an empty coffee maker box! That's just weird.

Chuck has just as many supporters as accusers though. The most common reaction to the allegation is: "Chuck is the nicest guy ever, he could never be the fridge thief!" Yes, I'll admit, he is one of the nicer people I've met. But stealing food (especially Diet Jello!) isn't an act of malice as much as it's an act of weirdness. And boy is Chuck weird.

Yesterday, when my frozen burritos disappeared I swung by Chuck's cube to peek in his trash can for "evidence". I found nothing. So for now, the mystery of the fridge thief lives on!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Field Trip

Today I'm going on a field trip!

To celebrate Black History Month, our entire office (50+ people) is heading over to the African American Art Museum. Yes, techincally Black History month was last month, but better late than never, right?

As I had mentioned before, these "celebratory events" are of great importance to the staff directors. There's such heavy pressure to create a "diverse" workforce that when there's an event like the "Pan-Asian Heritage Luncheon", you'd better show up or have a very good excuse why you can't. Our associate staff director has been known to patrol the hallways to catch those who try to skip such events. I've been caught twice in these round-ups - it's really awkward...

So today at 11am we will all meet in the hallway and metro over to the Smithsonian African Art Museum for a 3 hour excursion. The museum is free, but since we're all still being paid while we visit the museum, my estimation is that the trip will cost about $6,000 in salary expenses (50 employees x $40/hr average x 3 hrs). Thank you for your tax dollars, by the way. I do appreciate them very much.

I'm actually really excited for this trip! I get to go to a museum, I get to go outside, I don't have to sit in my cubicle staring at the wall all day. And I think they sell alcohol in the Smithsonian cafeterias...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I'm Still Here

Today they made me take down my "Wall of Awesomeness". The "Wall of Awesomeness" was where I hung all of my meaningless certificates from the countless online training modules and other pointless events that I've completed over the last 2.5 years. Anyone who ever came into my cube would immediately notice how awesome I was. That's how impressive the "Wall of Awesomeness" was.

When I switched cubicles a few weeks ago for my rotation, I didn't bother to take down all of these certificates (32 in total, meaning that I've earned an average of 1 certificate per month! Huzzah!). But now it seems that they've found someone to temporarily do my job while I'm temporarily doing someone else's job... so I had to completely clean out my old cube. I'd rehang them in my new cubicle, but the person who used to sit here will be reclaiming her old work space in 2 weeks. So I will soon be homeless - what's the point of decorating?

When I was cleaning out my old cubicle, I found an old staff directory from shortly after I started working here. I've been looking at the names on this list for the last hour wondering, wishing, dreaming about the people who once worked here. There were 57 employees on staff in my office when I first started in June 2005. Of the 57, 29 of them no longer work here. That means that a whopping 51% of the people who were here when I started have left! In the last 2.5 years! Talk about a high turnover rate... Of the 29 who were able to escape this place, 3 retired and 2 were fired (I'll write a post about how painfully difficult it was to fire these two people next week). The other 24 must have realized that there are far better options available than staying here.

How do I feel knowing that I'm one of the surviving 49%? Lazy and apathetic. I guess that explains a lot...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fun With Dick and George

Every morning when I walk in the building, this is what greets me:


Yep, big pictures of the President and Vice President, in gold frames, right when you walk in the door!

Cheney’s smirk makes me feel like he’s giving me a personal greeting every single morning: “Who’s your daddy?? Yeah that’s right… I’m your daddy. Welcome to work!”

If they really wanted me to feel good about working here, they should take down those two pictures and hang this one instead:



***UPDATE***
I have been asked if those are the actual photos of George and Dick that hang in the entry way, or if I just chose the worst/most evil looking shots I could find for comic effect. I assure you, those are 100% the same shots that greet me every morning. Which leads to only one conclusion - it's impossible for Vice President Cheney not to look maniacal.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Work (?) Week

I have a 3 day work week this week - it’s pretty rad. Monday was President’s Day (ok, technically it's called "Washington's Birthday", thank you very much section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code). So obviously as a Fed I didn’t have to report to work. And this Friday is my day off (compressed work schedule rules!). Tuesday, my boss was out sick so I had very little to do. Today and tomorrow I’m in training. If you’re keeping score at home, I guess technically you could argue that this is a 1 day work week for me, sandwiched by two 3-day weekends and a 2-day siesta (training = mental naptime). It feels like I’m barely working this week!

I love having days like President’s Day off. In college, the ONLY holiday we observed was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. None of this “Columbus Day” foolishness. Veterans Day? Yeah right! Having President’s Day off got me thinking about all of the other days off that Federal employees get.

For example, there are 10 Federal Holidays (sometimes 11 if Christmas falls on a Tuesday like in 2007). Additionally, every Fed gets at a minimum of 4 hours of vacation time each pay period (26 pay periods a year = 13 vacation days). Once you’ve been a Fed for 3 years, this jumps up to 6 hours per pay period (19.5 vacation days annually). And if you make it to 15 years of Federal service, you get 8 hours of annual leave per pay period (26 vacation days a year!). On top of that, my compressed work week schedule gives me one Friday off every 2 weeks (another 26 days off!). If I choose to work on my “day off”, I can bank the hours as “comp time” and use them whenever I want.

Right off the bat, an entry level employee working a compressed work week schedule has 49 days off in their first year. And that’s not even counting sick leave (an additional 13 days, bringing the total to 62 days off). If you used it all (plus sick leave) in one year, you’d only actually be working for 9 months out of 12… as an entry level employee! Stick around for 15 years, your total jumps to 75 days off earned per year (the equivalent of 15 five day work weeks). Can it possibly get better?

If you’re like my boss, you like to save your vacation days instead of use them. At the end of any given year, you’re only allowed to carry over 240 hours of vacation (30 days). He carries this full amount over every year – he’s simply gets so much leave that he cannot possibly get rid of it all. But, if he were to take all of his days off in a 12 month period, here’s how ridiculous it would be:

30 banked vacation days + 26 earned vacation days + 10 Federal holidays + 26 compressed work days + 13 sick days = 105 days off in one year. That’s the equivalent of 21 five day work weeks. He could essentially take over five months off in one calendar year! And he wouldn’t miss a penny of his GS-15 salary ($142,227). Feels like barley working indeed…

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Water Cooler Club

Two posts ago, I made a reference to the "Water Cooler Club" that has raised some questions. Well, specifically one question: "What's the Water Cooler Club?"

If you work in the private sector, you probably take advantage of lots of "freebies" that us public sector employees don't get. Coffee and bagels at morning meetings... office sponsored dinners or happy hours... holiday parties... birthday cakes... farewell luncheons... and of course, the beloved water cooler.

Every office I've ever worked in has had a water cooler. But I never realized, until becoming a Fed, that those gigantic jugs of Deer Park and those useless cone-shaped paper cups (you can't put a cone-shaped cup of water down anywhere! why!?!) cost a pretty penny.

(Cone shaped cups - useless.)

The companies I've worked for, from gigantic multi-national retailers to small research organizations, always picked up the bill for water. Not so for the Federal Government! If we want to drink from the water cooler, we have to pay to join the "Water Cooler Club" ($10-15 a month).

It makes sense - why should your tax dollars cover my drinking water at work? Why should your tax dollars be used to pay for my breakfast meetings, birthday parties, or farewell luncheons? (If you are asking "Why should your tax dollars pay for me to sit around and write this blog?" then we are no longer friends.) Because we are such good stewards of the American public's money, we have to cough up some cash every time we have an event. Yesterday we had a farewell celebration for a coworker who moved on to another job. In order to pay for the party, my coworker Ismail devised the following contribution payment scheme:

GS 14-15: $5 or more.
GS 13: $4 or more
GS 12: $3 or more
GS 11: $2 or more
GS 9: $1 or more
GS 0-8: you are too poor to pay for anything.

With the out-of-pocket funds that everyone contributed, we gave her a send-off of cookies and juice in the conference room!

Maybe I'm just whining, but over time these small contributions add up. There's an average of 2 occasions where I am *asked* to contribute each month. They usually run about $3-5 each, sometimes up to $10-15 depending on the event. That's over $100 contributed every year to pay for events that would be free in the private sector. Think of all the beer that could get me! And it would be even more if I joined the "Water Cooler Club" - over $200 annually!

That’s why I have a Brita pitcher, and it suits me just fine.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Clothes Make the Man?

Monday was the second day in my Federal career that I wore a suit to work. I actually like wearing a suit from time to time - it makes me feel important. Suits are like a British accents - they give you instant credibility that you didn't earn and probably don't deserve. That's why all of my managers are always so well dressed!

The dress code at FederalEntity is technically Business Casual. In practice, it ranges from "homeless" to "black tie" depending on the individual:

The Politicos - These employees are either politically appointed, they are a staffer for someone who is politically appointed, or they are a high level manager or director who reports directly to someone who is politically appointed. The men always wear suits; the women wear whatever you call those power-pant-suit getups. This group reminds me of the stereotypical 1920's workforce - jackets, ties, and bowler hats.

The Middle-Managers - There are two sectors here - "Risers" and "Dead-Ends". "Risers" are middle-managers who will shortly be promoted to the Politicos level. They are smart and talented and are dressed to impress (always suits) as they climb the ladder. "Dead-Ends" are middle-managers who somehow got their management level jobs through luck, by accident, or simply by sticking around long enough. They have no chance of moving up the ladder any further than they already have. They are clearly in over their heads, so they dress very nicely to try to cover it up (a la my British accent reference). While they may look alike, it's quite easy to tell the difference between "Risers" and "Dead-Ends"... just ask them a work-related question...

The Workers - These are the employees who do the grunt work that makes the government wheels turn ever so slowly. The dress code for this group is business casual – maybe a little more relaxed on Fridays and during the summer. For the most part, the “workers” are trapped in cubicles all day with nobody to impress. If they have an important meeting, they'll snazzy their dress up a little - maybe a tie or something. If they have a REALLY important meeting - a suit. But don't expect them to get dressy more than 3 times per month. There's no reason to "dress to impress" on a daily - most of the workers aren't yet eligible to become managers tenure-wise, so what's the point?

The Gave-Ups - These are the "workers" who have given up on their dreams. They are content with making absurd government salaries and not doing any work. They never have important meetings. They have no chance of advancing to the management level. In essence, they're just showing up to collect their paychecks until they can retire. They wear jeans, sweatshirts, tshirts with weird logos and designs on them, shorts, sandals, burlap sacks...

I'd classify myself as a "worker" (don't laugh!), although my dress standards have steadily declined over the last 2.5 years. I wore a suit on my very first day at FederalEntity - orientation day. I quickly realized that it was absurd and unnecessary. For my first year, I wore khakis and button downs and kept a tie in my desk for emergencies. Eventually, I started wearing jeans on Fridays. Then my coworker Kevin and I embraced the policy of "Casual Footwear Fridays", which allowed us to wear sneakers, sandals, Crocs, etc. Then I started to wear sandals every day during the warm months, and switched from button-downs to short-sleeved polo shirts. Then it was jeans, sandals, and a polo every day - I became a "gave-up". But my new (temporary) job has me hobnobbing with the politicos, so for the time being it's back to dressing respectably. Until summertime, at least, then all bets are off!


UPDATE:
The following was written by a friend who is also a Fed - apparently I missed a category. Thanks for the catch!

"Federal Divas." These are the support staff who, no matter what day of the week, wear their best clubbing outfits and gold hoop earings. They often wear shirts that are too small with ridiculous seaquins and shiny print as well as boots with six inch heals over the bottoms of their bebe jeans (often just a size too small). You never know of it their going to make a copy or drop it like its hot.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Coworker Profile: Frank

There are a ton of fascinatingly strange people who work in the Federal Government, moreso than I have encountered in my private sector work experiences. I think this is caused by the fact that it's impossible to fire anybody in the government. There is nothing to deter federal employees from growing weirder and weirder as the years go by. The most intriguing example of this is my coworker Frank.

Frank works part-time on my team, and part-time on another team. He's been floating around our division for the last 10 years or so - the managers take turns having him on their staff. It's not that he's a bad worker, or even that he's stupid or cantankerous - in all of my encounters with him he has been quite the opposite. Frank's main problem is that he has a horrible short-term memory (which he personally attributes to his heavy drug use in the 60s and 70s). If you tell him something in the hallway, he'll forget it by the time he returns to his desk. The most effective way to get Frank to do something for you is to send him an email. Although he has also been known to forget to check his email for days at a time...

Frank is so intriguing because he has a never-ending supply of amazing stories. Every time I talk to Frank, he reveals another fascinating tidbit about his past. He is easily the most interesting person I have ever met (assuming that everything he says is true, which I strongly believe is the case). I will share the ones that I can remember:

- He was one of the original groupies of the band "ZZ Top", way back before they had beards
- He once worked at a kosher butcher shop and knows all about different cuts of meat
- He was one of the original skateboarders in Santa Monica, California - he used to hang around with the guys from Dogtown and Z-boys
- He worked in a box factory
- He used to drive a truck that delivered live fish to restaurants
- He has an MBA with concentrations in finance and accounting
- He used to write test questions for a standardized test company
- He speaks an African tribal dialect fluently
- He was once a school teacher in California
- He spent 3 years dumping garbage bags of fish (transported by bicycle) into lakes and ponds in the Congo
- He runs a non-profit organization that fights for the rights of Veterans (he is not a Veteran)
- He is close friends with a member of the band "The Monkees"
- He has written a novel about an African tribe where the tribesmen ritualistically pretend to transform into crocodiles (including a sex scene between a woman and a crocodile-man)

Those are just the ones I could remember off the top of my head - my coworkers will chime in with more, I'm sure. He's such an interesting character; it's a shame that he now spends his days lost in a cubicle farm. The only remnant of his free-spirit, Peace Corps. hippy past is his green thumb. Frank is a horticulture fiend - he has covered all of the windowsills in all of the office suites on our floor with cacti and other small plants. He spends at least an hour watering them every day… with water from the water cooler! No wonder it costs $20 a month to join the "water cooler club"!

Other Updates:

- Crazy secretary lady is now selling bootleg DVDs. She has a spreadsheet with hundreds of available titles, many of which are still out in theaters. My staff director bought some.

- I have officially moved into my new cube. It only took 2.5 days to get my computer moved across the hall! In the process, I think I started a turf war between the two IT guys.

- Government-wide 3.5% pay raises went into effect on this week's paycheck! An entry-level employee now makes $39,330!

- My annual performance evaluation is tomorrow. Should be a blast!


Quote of the Week:
"If I worked for a bunch of retarded monkeys, I'd at least be able to train them to give me the information that I need" - coworker, referring to management.

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Job (kinda...)!

Today I started a new job here at FederalEntity. Yes, after doing the same 10 tasks over and over again for 2.5 years, I was finally offered the chance to try something new - I'm going on a detail!

In the Government, such opportunities are called "Detail Assignments" or "Details". Essentially, a detail is a 3-6 month work assignment in another office, (occasionally even at another FederalEntity). You go to that office, learn some new skills, and then return home to your original, miserable job. If you're an ambitious Fed, it's a great way to gain work experience to round out your resume and move up the ladder. If you're an underachiever, it's a great way to underperform in a new setting when your staff director starts hassling you too much about your poor performance. This is the dilemma for Staff Directors when assessing potential detail candidates, because they all fall into two groups: they are either stellar employees or they are on thin ice at their old job and looking to escape for a bit. I'd like to think I'm stellar (although I'm definitely looking to escape)!

My old boss promised me that if I stayed around here for 2 years, he'd let me go on detail to which ever office I wanted. To his credit, he's stuck to that promise even though our team is severely understaffed at the moment. Our team is fully staffed at 7 employees, but with my departure will be down to 3. Sucks for my coworker Kathy...

So how did my first day on the new job go? Well, this morning I showed up 2.5 hours before my new boss so I sat around reading the newspaper all morning. I got chastised by two IT guys about trying to move my computer to my new cubicle (my new desk is literally 50 human paces down the hall from my old desk, but apparently I need a waiver to move my computer or something...). And I've received 6 phone calls and probably 20 emails from people who don't know that I'm on detail and/or still expect me to be doing my old job.

Regardless, I'm still pretty excited and don't worry, I'm sure I'll have some more fun stories to share soon. Like I said in my very first post: regardless of where you work in the Federal Government, it's always the same monkeys running the show.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The IT Guy

This morning I was locked out of my computer for 2 hours. I arrived at 7:05 AM today (almost on time!) and had to sit in my cube staring at the wall until 9:00 AM when the IT guy called me. As I mention in the "Cast of Characters" panel to the left, the IT guy hates me.

Whenever I tell coworkers this, they always say "Qari hates you?? He's always sooooo nice to me!" And indeed, I've seen him interact with other people and he's always nice and friendly and cheerful with them. But with me, nope! He won't even look at me when we pass each other in the halls. He'll speak to me from my coworker's cube rather than come into mine. He responds at the drop of a hat for everyone else, but no such luck for me! He actually got in at 8:30 AM this morning, I know because I heard him come in. I left a huge note on his keyboard requesting his immediate assistance, but he waited until 9:00 AM to reset my password. To kill time, I did both the crossword puzzle and sudoku.

So why does Qari hate me? It all stems back to my 2nd day here at FederalEntity. The computer that was provided for me when I first started in 2005 was a real crapbox. It was a Pentium 3 (Pentium 4 came out in 2000, just for reference) and it had a floppy disk drive. Remember floppy disks?? Anyways, this computer was super old and it was painfully slow. It took almost a full minute to open up simple MS Word documents. PDFs? Forget about it!

I told my boss that my computer was really really slow, and he asked the IT guy Qari if he would look into getting me a new PC. I'm not sure if Qari was just having a bad day, or if he wanted to show the "new kid" who was boss, but upon receiving this request from my boss he completely flipped out. He stormed down to my cube, accused me of lying and exaggerating about how slow my computer was, then went into my boss' office and scolded him for having the audacity to request a new PC.

My second day and I had already been spurned for making a simple and completely reasonable request. Foreshadowing for the rest of my Federal career???

To make a long story short, my boss told his boss about the incident, and Quari (who is a contractor) got into some kind of trouble with his contracting company. I was assured by several levels of management that such an incident would never happen again. And from that day on, Qari has made every effort possible to hate me without verbalizing his disdain.

In general, I'm fine with it, although it's really awkward when I run into him in the men's room.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Blue Shirt Day!!

Today, two of my coworkers and I accidentally wore strikingly similar light blue shirts to work. Of course, this warranted us having our picture taken:

(faces have been changed to protect the bored)

Sadly, this will undoubtedly be the highlight of my work week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Travel Time

Greetings from America’s heartland! My coworker and I are on a work trip right now visiting one of FederalEntity’s satellite offices. Why are we here? Well, it’s been in our performance evaluation every year that we should visit a branch office and we’ve finally decided to do it. We’re calling it a “learning experience”. I’m not upset though - Government travel is WAY better than sitting back in my cubicle in DC:

1. Per Diem – I get reimbursed $60 a day for food and other expenses. I probably spend $20 a day on food and expenses. That leaves $40 per day in my pocket to waste at a bar this weekend!

2. Sweet Hotels – Fortunately, the Federal Government doesn’t skimp on hotels – the place I’m in right now is totally sweet. Last time I traveled, I had a penthouse suite with views of the ocean and city skyline! Don’t get too pissed off, you silly tax-payer. The Government has some deal worked with the hotel chains. Basically, if a hotel has rooms available and a Fed wants to stay there, the hotel has to book the room at the “government” rate, which is 50-70% less than what the room typically costs. On my first Government-related trip, I stayed at a Ritz-Carlton in Kansas for about $100 a night.

3. Frequent Flyer Miles – I get to keep them for myself! The Government has the same kind of deal with the Airlines for the “government rate” on flights. My flight on Travelocity.com was $500 each way. The government rate was $229. Everybody wins! Except for the Airlines I guess, but they’re used to always losing… If I ever take a flight over 7 hours long, I get to fly business class. Don’t worry, that will never happen.

4. Miscellaneous costs – The government also picks up the tab for all sorts of expenses related to my trip: internet connection fees at the hotel, transportation to and from the airport, airport parking, ATM surcharge fees, hotel taxes, long distance phone calls (assuming they are work related).

So yeah, I don’t mind traveling. It’s a shame I only get to go on 4 trips a year! As always though, there are a million little frustrations that go with every good part about being a Fed. For travel, it’s everything leading up to the trip.

First, I had to convince my bosses to let me take this trip, even though they told me that I have to take it. My justification was: “you told me I should take this trip, so I’m gonna take it”. It took over a year for it to come to fruition from that point. I set up all of the details and was ready to go the second week in December... when the bosses pulled the plug on me. They really wanted me to be at a half-hour staff meeting on the last day of my proposed trip, so I had to reschedule everything. The staff meeting ended up being a waste of time, but that's not surprising.

The next hitch came from our Travel system. We use a program that several other FederalEntities use to book their travel arrangements and boy does it blow. On my last trip, the system booked my airplane ticket in my name, but charged it to a woman who worked on the West Coast. Boy was she surprised when she got the $600 bill for a flight from DC to Chicago! It took 4 months to resolve.

This time, the system booked us on a “direct” flight. Everything was fine until we realized that “direct” and “non-stop” are quite different. A direct flight makes one or more stops, but you don’t have to transfer planes. Our flight was to take a 1 hour pit stop in St. Louis. As soon as we figured that out, we rebooked.

However, the travel system didn’t buy my plane ticket until 2 days before my trip. My coworker had an even greater surprise when she arrived at the airport to check her bags and they told her that her ticket had never been purchased! The travel system sent her a confirmation, including gate and seat numbers, but it never bothered to actually purchase the ticket! Luckily, there were lots of empty seats, so she was able to buy one on the spot, and still managed to snag the government rate.

When I return to DC on Friday, I’ll fill out an expense report. If history repeats, I’ll get my government credit card bill in 1 week demanding my payment, but my reimbursement won’t show up for a month or two. I’m not worried though – if the travel people’s slowness causes me to miss the credit card due date, the Government pays my credit card late fee. Today, I'm actually happy I'm a Fed - Huzzah!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Holiday Party!

It's taken me over two weeks to come to terms with our 2007 holiday party. Immediately after the party, I wanted to run back to my desk, write an expletave filled rant, smash my computer, and storm out of the office never to return again. I decided instead to go on Christmas vacation, relax, and then once I'd come to terms with everything, write just a simple presentation of the facts. Without further ado:

Our holiday party cost $13 per person to attend. It was held in the conference room at the end of our hall, from 12:00 - 2:30 PM. On a Tuesday. There was a buffet of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, and stuffing all served slightly above room temperature (this is what the $13 paid for). The meal was not catered by a restaurant or professional caterer, but a woman who works in another office on our floor and does it as a hobby. Dessert was NOT included. Instead, there was a "dessert contest" that forced employees to spend their time and $$ to prepare dessert for everyone else (very clever of the organizers - keep those costs low!). There were not enough spots for everyone in our office to sit down and eat. Some people ate while standing up, others simply grabbed food, went back to their desks to eat, and never returned. Holiday music was played from an iPod hooked up to computer speakers. For entertainment, we played a game of "Name That Christmas Song" and had a "Wrapping Paper Fashion Show" (3 teams designed "clothing" made out of wrapping paper and then modeled them). Winners of these games received holiday coffee mugs. And most importantly, there was NO alcohol this year, because the party planning committee didn't bother to get the proper request forms signed (you need a special approval form to bring booze into a Federal building). After the party was over, everyone returned to their desks to work. The big bosses even scheduled important meetings for the rest of the afternoon that several of my coworkers were forced to attend.

Government holiday parties are inherently lame. The Government can't subsidize our holiday parties with your tax dollars, and nobody wants to pay a ton of cash from their own pockets for an office party, so there is little to work with. But I never could have imagined that a holiday party would make me want to quit! Sadly, the biggest disappointment was the lack of booze. Usually, I go into the holiday party with the mindset of "well this is gonna suck, but at least I can get drunk". Take away the booze, and all you have left is the suck.

Side note: Remember the college friend from a few posts back who got hired as a Contractor instead of as a regular Federal employee? His holiday party last year -- Black tie gala at the Ritz Carlton. Yep...