Saturday, August 9, 2008


Well, I've now been on the new detail for more or less two weeks. It's been interesting. The unit I'm with temporarily was created in response to a specific presidential directive. Turns out everyone connected with the unit, from the director on down to the secretary, is either detailed or a contractor -- there are no permanent employees associated with it. It's the government's internal version of the infamous unfunded mandate, where an agency is told "Do this work, but you can't have any FTEs to do it with." Which, in practice, is often another way of saying "We're going to do some posturing, pretend that we're concerned, but we don't really give a rat's patoot if the task is completed or not so we're not giving you any money or hiring authority." (And the Secretary of Health & Human Services or Agriculture or Defense or whoever's turn it is in the barrel will get to take the heat about not getting the job done instead of the President.) If an agency can't add permanent, full-time employees to an organization chart, then it doesn't matter what you call a unit or division -- it's automatically the ugly stepchild no one takes particularly seriously.

So the agency that's been handed the job, a job that often doesn't really need to be done but someone in Washington has decided it would look good to talk about, tries to figure a way to go through the motions of complying with the directive -- and they do it by cobbling together a unit or a task force with bodies borrowed from here and there and those bodies do the best they can for a few months, produce the requisite document, which then goes off to gather dust someplace, and nothing real ever happens. And of course no one really wants to acknowledge that this project addresses essentially the same issue that the current occupant of the White House has issued multiple previous directives regarding (with similar results, documents produced that then grow cobwebs) and that our happy little group of worker bees is setting out to duplicate a task that, in slightly different language, has been handed off to at least four other agencies over the past 6-1/2 years. As far as I can tell, based on several days of internet research as I tried to nail down a specific meaning for one of the key words in the directive, so far only one of the agencies involved in this general endeavor has succeeded in producing anything tangible: Homeland Security managed to come up with a truly scary logo, a strange mutation of the warning sign for biological hazards and radiation and some other weirdness that overall looks like it was cribbed from "Resident Evil" or some other video game.

Well, actually it's not quite true that all they've produced is a logo -- the Inspector General for DHS also produced a rather scathing indictment of the agency's failure to come up with anything much beyond the over-the-top graphic, and documented quite effectively the set-up-to-fail climate that prevails when a new unit has no real FTEs, all the civil service employees supposedly running the unit are on details so rotate in and out, and the contractors come and go almost as quickly.

The whole logo thing is rather amusing, too, because an astounding amount of energy is being expended in my own current work setting to design an appropriate logo for our unit. There seems to be way too much fretting about what the cover will look like and still not enough about what's actually going into the "book."

As for the specific project Large Nameless Agency has been tasked with completing, although from the outside this definitely looks like one of those typical government ratholes (aka boondoggles) that money gets poured into and nothing useful comes out, I have no doubt LNA will succeed in putting together a nice overview of the problem, the document will clearly point out existing gaps and barriers, it will make a number of logical and useful suggestions on improvements to the existing system, the logo will not cause a cringe reaction, . . . and, who knows, maybe the next administration will actually read it.

In short, the project itself may be a waste of money and/or an exercise in futility, but taxpayers can rest assured we're all going to work really hard so it's a quality waste of money rather than a mediocre one.


  1. I was raised in the military the military I think they called this digging fox holes....dig a hole..fill it up..dig another hole..fill it up..acomplished nothing but kept everyone busy...

  2. Catch 22 sums all this up I think. It has it's roots in the military culture and has taken hold in BushCo big time.

  3. Ah - going through the motions. But with feeling! About half the projects I've worked on in my career have been like that. They have a whiff of "let's just get this over with so we can say we did" to them.

    Hang in there.

  4. Whew, what a relief! Forever I have thought my tax dollars were wasted! Thanks for the heads up!

    God bless your heart Nan, did you not get the memo? Your task is not to think or question. Thinking as a govt. employee precludes going home, slugging whiskey and opening a vein!

    Thank God the suicide hotline is run by volunteers! Love your blog, thanks for stopping by mine! Any friend of Jackie's is a friend of mine!

    Gotta check out the dead people one though!

  5. Bureaucracies... Rolls eyes.

    When you want something done make yourself a committee of one.


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