Friday, November 7, 2008

Slow day at work

It is, as the astute reader could probably guess from the multiple posts today, a slow, slow day at Large Nameless Agency. The Document, the interagency strategic plan over which I've labored for the past three months, went out for another round of comments this past Friday. The deadline for responses back isn't until November 26 so it's probably going to be a slow, slow month.

We have heard back from a couple people already -- but none of the comments have been anything really noteworthy. One person managed to spot an error in the multiple-pages long list of contributors (several hundred people have had their fingers in this government-baked pie), despite that section being in a font so small we're jokingly referring to it as "Enron Beelzebub," but I guess when it's your name that's misspelled it doesn't matter much how tiny it's shrunken you're going to notice the mistake. Another offered the rather vague criticism that the document was "too ambitious." And that's it. Don't know if I should be encouraged by the silence or not.

While I wait for the comments and corrections to come back, I've been going through a hard copy of The Document, catching all the little odd spacing errors and minor typos we missed during the last insane week we worked on it and pieces kept dropping in and out unpredictably depending on which contributor or reviewer talked to the project manager last. Naturally there was a blooper in the first paragraph on the first page, an error in subject/predicate agreement (plural nouns, singular verb). Fortunately, the project manager inserted so much verbiage into the text using such dense bureaucratese that only a member of the Grammar Police (me?) would be likely to untangle any of the sentences enough to catch that particular mistake.

I started off on this project trying to trim that verbiage, but the manager kept putting it back -- she came from the private sector, has a management background, and suffers from a severe addiction to business jargon. Dealing with it has been frustrating, but in the end I came to my usual conclusion when it comes to troublesome editing projects (it's not my name on the by-line)(or its equivalent) -- and as long as they keep issuing the paychecks I can tolerate a temporary manager who doesn't quite seem to understand just what an editor does and who also seems unable to grasp the concept of "version control."

This detail is scheduled to end December 14, one day before the next deadline for The Document. December 15 is the day Version 1.0 is supposed to be done and up on a semi-public web site as well as submitted to the Homeland Security Council. [When I started in August we were at Version 0.2; the Document that's circulating now is V 0.9.] How public the website will be probably depends a lot on what LNA hears from the incoming administration. In an ideal world, it would be fully accessible by the public -- I find it reasurring to learn things like health departments monitor for West Nile virus and/or avian flu by using sentinel chickens (and isn't that a great image? Foghorn Leghorn in uniform, standing guard, patrolling in a Humvee, fearlessly protecting public health)*, but there are always professional paranoics in bureaucracies who want to clamp down on information instead of disseminating it. (Or maybe use the SOP suggested on last night's episode of "Eleventh Hour" that dealt with what LNA euphemistically refers to as "an adverse human health event"** -- lie to the public.)(A really, really bad idea in today's wifi/cell phone/twittering age.)

As thing stand now, I'll be exiting at a good time, although there has been talk of extending the detail. I'd then get to work on a potential nightmare of a document currently referred to as an "implementation plan." I'm still debating whether or not I'm masochistic enough to say yes if they ask me to stay on for another 120 days.

*Sentinel chickens are flocks of chickens state and local public health departments keep in areas where mosquitoes carrying West Nile are likely to appear. Blood samples are taken from the chickens to see if the virus is present. If the virus is present, local health departments warn health care providers to be alert for patients coming in with symptoms associated with West Nile so doctors don't inadvertantly delay treatment thinking the patient's illness is something less serious.
** Aka "public health emergency," like a widespread salmonella outbreak or a derailed freight car leaking toxic fumes.


  1. I love the blurb on sentinel chickens.

    Slow days are good, but they can drag on forever - kind of like working on the implementation plan thingy might, huh?

  2. i may be a flunky at my little family dollar job..but it's fun..never boring..and my 4 hours goes by really little old folks are fun to wait on..

  3. It's been raining a lot here.


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