Late for work. Red line single tracking. Escalator out of order. Next train: 20 minutes.
In this final installment of the Washington Bureaucrat’s hard hitting, soft power, six-part series in which our intern goes undercover at the State Department, the most common winter weather phenomenon in America shuts down the entire U.S. government.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Week Two
The State Department is closed on account of snow. I will later learn that this counts as one of my ten weeks, because my internship end date is already in the system and to change it would require a form. I decide to round down and just stop coming in now. The next time I hear from them is six months later–in an email asking when I’d like to schedule my goodbye party.
Friday. Finally. In the Washington Bureaucrat’s hard hitting, soft power, six-part series going undercover at the State Department. Will anyone actually be in the office?
All night Thursday I check the Office of Personnel Management website to see if the Federal Government will be closed Friday. Washington is expecting a major snowstorm of over twenty inches starting Friday late morning. Harold said that he would be in by seven and that I could call him to check before coming in.
When I wake up, I check the website again. Government offices will be closing four hours ahead of schedule. Should I even bother to go in? Will anyone be there? I call Harold. No answer.
At eight I call again and again there is no answer. I try convincing myself that I am not going, that I don’t need to put on my suit again. Who am I kidding? I want that badge.
At five minutes to nine I knock on the door of my office and Harold lets me in. Turns out he screens his calls. I show him my approved badge form and he tells me to take the elevator down to one.
After the door closes behind me, I realize that all I have on me is my driver’s license, which I’d put back in my pocket after showing it to get through security. My wallet and cell phone are in my suit jacket pocket, and nobody wears their jacket there when not in a meeting.
Diplomatic Security is located just inside the “joggers’ entrance” but just outside the security turnstiles. The guard on duty lets me out so I can go to the office. Inside it feels like being at the DMV. People look like they’d been waiting for hours, and the lady behind the desk looks like she could go on ignoring them for twice as long.
When she gets to me and I tell her I am there to get my badge, she says fine, all she needs from me are two forms of ID. I pretend I didn’t hear her, handing over just my driver’s license.
“I need to see two forms.”
I tell her I’ll be back soon. But there’s been a shift change; the new guard doesn’t know me. I show her my temporary badge and my ID. She says they don’t have the list of interns at that entrance. Someone from my office has to come down and get me. She asked for the number to my office. I don’t know. She calls directory assistance to try and find it. They give her Steven Apple’ number. He doesn’t answer. I stand there for ten minutes. She calls again. No answer. I keep standing there. A guy coming out of the Diplomatic Security office asks if I need help. He says he knows a guy in my bureau and if he gets the chance, he’ll see if he can talk to him. He’ll be back in an hour, if I am still there.
The guard tells me someone is sending over the intern list. About another ten minutes later, still no list, she decides it is okay for me to go in after all. I go up to my office, knock on the door, wait for Harold, grab my passport, and go back down. I bump into Geoffrey in the hallway. He says he was just downstairs looking for me. Together we return to the Diplomatic Security office.
With Geoffrey, I am suddenly somebody.
“Oh, he’s with you?” the guard at the joggers’ entrance says with a smile. We walk right through.
“Well, hello there!” says the lady at the desk in the Diplomatic Security office.
She takes care of me immediately, collecting my driver’s license, passport, and temporary intern badge. Only now it turns out that they need my briefing form. I have no idea what that is, and neither does Geoffrey. I tell him every form I’ve ever been given is in my desk drawer. He tells me to sit down and wait for him, he was going to get it.
Geoffrey reappears with everything from my desk drawer. Nothing in there resembles a briefing form.
“All right, let’s go talk to Sharon,” he says, “I can’t believe these guys these days. When I started we didn’t have any briefing forms. You’re only here for what, five weeks, and we have to go through all this trouble for you.”
Even without any badge at all, the guard lets me right through the gate behind Geoffrey.
I tell Sharon I need a briefing form in order to get my badge.
“Oh,” she says, “you get that after your security briefing.”
Deborah Walker is sitting where I sat a couple days earlier filling out forms for Cam.
“That’s right,” she says, “you did your orientation on your own. You’ll need to go to the next security briefing, which I believe is on Monday. You’ll want to talk to Suzy Miller about that.”
“I can’t come in on Monday, I have class.”
“They might have one on Wednesday morning. Check back again next week.”
“I don’t have my intern badge anymore. They took it when I was downstairs.”
“Cam, go with him and get that badge back.”
Deborah tells me that if they don’t give it to me at the badge office that I will need to go down the block to the building where I was the first day to get a new one, and if I have to do that, I may as well just go on home after because we were closing early.
Cam leads me back down to the Diplomatic Security office. The same lady is at the desk. She is on the phone with a friend and talking about manicures.
I stand there for long enough to hear the full saga of her cuticle crisis. She finally gets off the phone and asks if I have my briefing form.
Just then they call my name from the back. My badge is right ready to be picked up. All I need is to give her my briefing form. Cam tells her I don’t have it yet. What I need is to get my temporary intern ID back.
She fishes any old temporary intern badge out of a brown manila envelope on her desk. On the way back I notice it is number 43 and not my 55. I am not going back there. Not without my briefing form.
Instead I focus on setting up my voicemail. Geoffrey responded to the email I sent him asking him to reset my password by telling me that the password was the one that it was supposed to have been. The one that wasn’t working. I try it again just for kicks. I doesn’t work. I try it twelve more times and send him another email.
Next I call Deputy Assistant Secretary Bill Siraglio’s administrative assistant to schedule the introduction I’m told I’m supposed to schedule with him. She says she isn’t sure about his schedule on account of the weather. I’ll have to call back next week.
I now have an email from the director of the intern program asking if I know that my position is listed in the directory as division chief and could I please call IT to get that straightened out.
While I am on the phone with IT, Geoffrey shows up at my desk.
“Is that your mother?” he asks. “Because if it’s anyone other than you’re mother I am not waiting.”
The tech support guy tells me that it will take twenty-four hours for the change to take effect. I am division chief for one more day. I tell him I’ll be sure to create some major new policy and hang up.
“Show me how you check your voicemail,” Geoffrey says.
I put the phone on speaker and go through the process as outlined in the manual. I get a message telling me to contact my system administrator.
“You tried it too many times,” Geoffrey says, “now I have to go and reset it again.”
“It didn’t even work the first time,” I say.
“Yes it did. I tried it from my office when I did it. I’ll reset it again on Monday.”
He leaves and I move a few more emails about the Assistant Secretary’s upcoming schedule into the trash folder. It’s one-fifteen. Technically I am scheduled to stay till two, but Steven has not yet bothered to look at the email I sent him proposing said schedule.
I put on my jacket, stuff everything back into the drawer, restart my computer, and go home.
It’s Thursday now in the Washington Bureaucrat’s hard hitting, soft power, six-part series going undercover at the State Department. Will this be the day he finally gets email access?
Thursday I dawdle after class. It’s after one when I get to State. This time after the x-ray and security screening I know where to direct the guard’s attention on his list.
“I’m on the list from Tuesday. At the bottom. It’s hand-written.”
“Yep, there you are.”
I knock on my office door and wait. Eventually Harold the office management assistant lets me in.
“Geoffrey was looking for you. Have you gotten your badge yet?”
I visit the familiar office and hear the familiar reply that Geoffrey is out.
“Is your email working yet?” Steven asks me as he walks by my desk.
“I don’t know. I haven’t checked.”
“Oh, well I’ve been sending you emails.”
My log in works this time. I have 235 new messages.
“Looks like you’ve got something to keep you busy.”
Some messages are the daily schedules of various people I don’t know. Many are news updates or agendas for meetings I’m not going to or for events that have already occurred. There is a message about getting my classified log in information. I need to get my badge first. One message is from tech support saying they came by my office to fix my computer but I was out, and to let them know if I received this message. I do actually have one message from Steven, telling me to call the administrative assistant for Bill Siraglio, Deputy Assistant Secretary and person of power, to set up a meeting, as he likes to meet personally with all of the new interns.
I try dialing my voicemail again. The computerized operator informs me that my password is incorrect. The packet on accessing voicemail says to contact Geoffrey for a password reset.
Towards the top of my inbox, there is an extensive email chain about a going away party for one of the men in the office who has been transferred to Kabul. There will be chips and drinks.
Another message came in reminding everyone that the party has started. I shut down the computer. Tim sees me do so and informs me that the new policy is to just restart your computer at the end of the day instead of shutting it down. I leave it off and go to the party.
The guy who is leaving is amazed that he gets to ship five thousand pounds of stuff over with him, as opposed to the backpack he took with him when he did Peace Corps.
Ann has stories from when she was stationed in Guadalajara Mexico. About a pregnant sixteen year-old southern white girl abandoned in a border town by her deported Mexican boyfriend sneaking back into the U.S. About the guy who was kept in a freezer for three years after he was killed because nobody was willing to identify him until the State Department finally sent her.
And then there is Geoffrey.
“What’s your name,” he asks, a question with no question mark at the end.
I tell him. He tells me to come with him. We go back to his office, where he shows me the badge form I filled out and demands to know what the heck I think this is. Apparently the new form I filled out came pre-signed, by the wrong person. He has me go back to the front and get another form and fill it out, and when I finish I am to give it to Sharon to sign, because it has to be someone from their office doing the authorization if I am going to be their responsibility.
Sharon fills out the administrative part of the form and hands it back to me. I am supposed to bring that down to the badge office between the hours of nine and four. It is four-forty-five. I walk back to my office, knock on the door, waited until Harold hears me, grab my jacket and backpack so I won’t to knock on the door again when I want to go home, and go back to the party. Everyone is leaving.
I heard that there is an S1 bus that leaves from Virginia and 21st that will take me closer to school. That exit is on the opposite end of the building from where visitors are permitted to leave. I show the guard there my intern badge and ask if it would be all right for me to leave through his door. He motions over his supervisor to check with him.
“Let him out,” the guy says.
The Washington Bureaucrat’s hard hitting, soft power, six-part series going undercover at the State Department continues with Wednesday, in which our intern encounters the Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia.
This time I ride the bus all the way to D Street. I know which entrance to go to, know I have to go through the visitors’ door to be screened and detected. This time I walk directly over to the security guard around the corner instead of waiting in line at the front desk.
This time the guard is new. He takes my ID and checks it against the names on his list. My name is not on the list. He flips through the pages on his clipboard. He calls someone to ask if he has the most recent copy of the list. He flips through the pages of his clipboard again. Finally he spots the list on which the previous guard wrote my name at the bottom. I’m in.
Thanks to a minor dusting of snowflakes, the State Department has some sort of optional leave policy in effect. When I enter my office there is only one person there, a guy about my age. He is on the phone listing off all the people who aren’t coming in or will be coming in late that day.
Ten minutes later he finishes his conversation and acknowledges me.
“Do you know if Cam is in? I’m supposed to meet him.”
Over the next hour, he has me sign forms I feel I’ve seen before while he explains random things about the office that I can’t really understand because he has a thick and confusing accent. There is something about parties on the 8th floor and badges and transit benefits.
We go over the bureau phone directory on which he stars all of the names I might want to call for various purposes but does not note which purpose pertains to which person. We walk around the office and he introduces me to the people who are in today.
Back at the desk where I first encountered Cam another intern comes in. She has been working three weeks already but whichever department is in charge of giving out classified hard drives so people can access classified material won’t give her her hard drive, which she needs in order to put together a report.
Here comes Geoffrey. At least six feet tall and probably as wide around, he could shake my hand with his pinky. He tells that girl he’ll help her solve the problem, and I get the impression that whoever is in the classified hard drive office will have a harder time brushing him aside.
Ann, a Foreign Service officer, gives me a tour of the building. Ann is from my hometown. When Rachel first called to offer me the internship, she described the process by which I’d been chosen: Nick, the summer intern, goes to the same grad school as I do, pulled ten resumes out of the pile. He chose mine because I was starting at the same school. During the next round, Ann noticed that I was from her hometown. That sealed the deal. Never mind that in my application essay I specifically expressed an interest in work related to a specific subject that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the work that they do in the [name redacted] division.
I am shown to the cubicle where I will be sitting. That is the term they use to ask where someone’s desk is: “where does he sit?”
Every door on every office (thankfully, bathrooms excluded) requires that one insert a badge into a slot in order to open it. This is the same badge needed to enter and exit the building, the same badge that Ann says is the first thing I must take care of, the same badge that I still don’t have. For that I am supposed to talk to Geoffrey, who is out when I return to look for him.
Steven, the division chief and my supervisor, is in a meeting. I twiddle my thumbs for an hour till he gets back. He introduces himself, shakes my hand, goes into his office, and shuts the door.
I try signing on to the computer. It doesn’t work. Steven comes out of his office to tell me he looked me up in the system and my title is listed as “Division Chief”. I had better talk to Geoffrey to get that fixed. I try accessing my voicemail. The default password doesn’t work.
One of the Foreign Service officers says Geoffrey came looking for me while I was out. I go back over to that office, careful to stick something in the door to keep it from closing and locking me out of my office in the meantime.
Geoffrey is out again, but Sharon is in and she is pretty sure the problem is with my form I filled out to apply for a badge. Someone in the office where I did orientation signed the form, which is no good. Someone in [bureau name redacted] has to sign the form. I fill out a new form and leave it with her.
Steven is looking for Tim to take him to a meeting with a Deputy Minister of Agriculture from Georgia (the country). Tim isn’t around.
“Would you like to go to a real State Department meeting?” Steven asks me. “Grab your (suit) coat.”
“Oh, there you are. Well, you can both come. You’ll be my entourage.”
And so I sit in on a meeting at which the Deputy Foreign Minister of Agriculture from Georgia, here on a mission to promote Georgian wine, meets with the division chief in charge of [division responsibility redacted, but I promise you it has nothing to do with Georgian wine]. It is as productive as it sounds, and we don’t even get any samples.
Back in the office, I call tech support to find out why my log in doesn’t work. They say it is a common problem with new people. I get a trouble ticket number.
I try my voicemail again. Steven passes by and sees my packet of information about how to access voicemail. He asks if I can make a copy of it for him when I get a chance.
I copy it for him then leave for class.
The Washington Bureaucrat’s hard hitting, soft power, six-part series going undercover at the State Department continues with Tuesday. If only interns were eligible for AWS!
Fearful of not being able to find the place, I leave my apartment at eight-thirty. I wear my brand new charcoal grey suit with a brand new shirt from Brooks Brothers and a bright red tie that I spend longer than I’d care to admit attempting to knot. I even set the auto-timer on my camera to take a picture of me dressed up and ready for my first day at the office to send to my parents.
Into my pocket go a piece of paper on which I have written the phone number for Suzy Miller and the three people from my department—[name redacted] ([acronym redacted]) within the Bureau of [name redacted] ([acronym redacted])—with whom I have had previous contact. Concerned about violating some sort of scary government security protocol, I don’t bring my backpack or any schoolwork with me. All I bring beyond the usual cell phone/keys/wallet is my passport, per the instructions of Suzy Miller.
I am so anxious about missing my stop and being late and having to reschedule that I get off the bus at the Foggy Bottom metro stop a half a mile from the Annex at Columbia Plaza where I am supposed to check in. Up ahead in the distance I watch the bus stop directly outside the Annex.
All the same, I am standing at the security desk at nine-twenty. Continue reading
In the Washington Bureaucrat’s first ever piece of slightly less than pseudo journalism, join our spring intern for this hard hitting, soft power, six-part series as he goes undercover at the State Department to learn where foreign policy comes from.
My internship, I am emailed, is scheduled to start on Monday. Classes also start on Monday. Monday being the only day available for intern orientation at the State Department, I call the internship administration office expecting them to tell me tough shit.
Unbureaucratically, Suzy Miller on the other end of the line offers to set me up with an individual orientation session Tuesday at ten. Not only does this fit my schedule beautifully and relieve me of the anxiety of having to cut class to go to an unpaid internship, but it also promises to be significantly shorter than the full-day agony those forty suckers scheduled for Monday must have to endure. I should have known better.