(3/6) The Internship: Or, How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate the Government

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.”

“I’m Cam.”

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.”

Tim surfaces.

“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.

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