Servicing the public good
Wendy’s last day is Friday, and she has one of the good office chairs. How do I snag it before one of the other analysts gets to it?
-Edge of My Seat
Dear Edge, Hide your guest chairs then invite Wendy over to touch base. When she drags her chair over, shut the door and promise that if she leaves you her chair you’ll let her lobby you for whatever she wants from her new job on K St. If that doesn’t work, you may as well go trendy and ask the ergonomics office for a standing desk.
Dear Bureaucrat, A reporter from the Post wants to interview me about a recent rulemaking we promulgated. What’s the protocol for talking to the press?
Dear Hot Shot, Section 204.b of the Department’s General Policies and Procedures states that all media requests should be directed straight to the Office of Communications and Media Affairs without passing GO and certainly without collecting $200, unless you want to have the Office of Employee Ethics to reckon with.
At my agency we’re not allowed to check personal email on work computers. They block gmail.com, but they forgot mail.google.com, which redirects to the same page. Is it wrong to use that loophole to log in?
By acknowledging your inquiry, per Section 306.b.q.17 of the Employee Ethics Handbook I would be required to report you to the Office of Employee Ethics. Therefore, I’m not going to acknowledge it. Instead, let’s pretend you asked which form you need for ordering office supplies. The answer is form 545B. Or steal them from another section.
My job title is economist, but my assignments are mainly administrative tasks like binding briefing books. Meanwhile our admin watches TV all day. How can I get her to do her job so I can do mine?
You must be new here.
How are the furloughs from the sequester affecting my everyday life?
As much as I’d like to answer your question, we just don’t have enough staff right now to draft a response and vet it up and down the management chain. Please accept my apologies and the following preapproved language from an old response to someone else’s question.
Dear Mrs. Jones Cutbacks,
The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. A valid government-issued ID is required for entry.
I’m getting ready to move to DC to start my summer internship, and I’m wondering how many dress shirts to pack. How often can I get away with wearing the same thing?
-Sartorial in SF
In government, twice is fine but thrice a week is pushing it since you’re bound to get BBQ sauce stains on your shirt if you buy lunch from the food trucks. Now if you can find a dry cleaner with same-day service, or even a good Tide pen, one shirt should get you through the summer. After all, your supervisor’s only going to see you on your start day and at your going away happy hour, unless he’s on travel that week.
My agency offers a transit subsidy for staff who take the bus or metro to work, but I use Capital Bikeshare. How can convince them to also subsidize my commute?
By the time you submit your suggestion to your Employees Committee rep, she brings it up at their meeting, someone from Benefits comes to discuss it at the meeting after that, that person brings it to her supervisor, her supervisor brings it to the managers’ meeting, the managers put it on the agenda for the strategic planning meeting, and it then sits on the back burner until a new Secretary needs to do something to curry favor with the staff, you’ll be retirement age and living too far out in Virginia to bike to work. If you really want the subsidy, just take your rental bike with you onto the bus.
I wish to submit a letter of accolade lauding the fine accomplishments of the men, women, and gender neutral persons of the public service. To whom shall I address my correspondence?
-A. Grateful Citizen
What charm! What elegance! Surely a person of such adroit social grace as yourself must already work for our fine government? If not, then I beseech you to make haste with your application. In the meantime, don’t bother writing in. By the time you get rejected by our robotic job search process I suspect you won’t feel like writing that letter after all.
May I have your autograph?
-Another Grateful Citizen
Dear Grateful II,
Sorry, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the government it’s don’t ever put anything in writing.
It is with a heavy heart that I have been following the news about the sequester and other fiscal woes besetting our fine federal employees. How are you? Is there anything I can do to help?
What charm! What elegance! Are you sure you don’t work for the government either? As for helping us I’d ask you to vote out your stubborn sonofabitch Senator who has been stonewalling all attempts at compromise, but you already voted him in for another six years back in November.
The rest of the world sure is scary. How do you and your fellow public servants face the dangers of diplomacy and national defense so gallantly?
-Another Concerned Citizen
Dear Concerned II,
There are even more scary things out that there you never even hear about because we nip those threats right in the bud. At least that’s what we have to tell you so you’ll keep supporting a $1.5 trillion defense budget even though we’re up to our receding hairlines in national debt.
Note: Due to sequestration, Ask a Bureaucrat has been furloughed. Please enjoy this guest column by a member of the agency’s janitorial staff.
My desk is getting pretty cluttered with old slide decks from various briefings I’ve attended. What is the proper method for disposing of classified materials?
-Nate in 3312
Your office management specialist should have provided you with a burn bag. You may also deposit classified materials for disposal in the marked receptacles located outside stairwells 3 and 5.
I don’t like to complain, but there’s a pretty funky odor emanating from the communal kitchen. Did you maybe forget to clean out the refrigerator last Friday?
-Geoff in 3308
How many times must I remind you people that the communal kitchen is a communal responsibility? As clearly indicated in black sharpie on the sign on the door, each individual should take care to ensure that his or her food and beverage items are removed from the refrigerator when no longer needed.
Can you please vacuum my office when you have a chance? I’m in a meeting till 4 but will be around after if you want to stop by.
-Susan in 3355
Please fill out a maintenance request using the online form available from your division’s homepage.
I noticed that you come around and empty everyone’s trash can three times a day even though they are rarely full. Wouldn’t it be more efficient for you to just do it once at the end of the day?
-Alice in 3025
So you’re the one who’s been hiding your trash can under your desk when I make my morning rounds. Please return it to the hallway at once as per division policy.
Thanks to the freeze I haven’t gotten a pay raise or a bonus in four years. What’s my motivation in this scene?
Bureaucrats like us get paid with something called face time, which is basically the privilege of letting someone more important than you sit on your face. If you tilt your head the right way you might even get some brown nosing in there too!
P.S. I think there’s a FaceTime option on the iPhone where you can check your balance, but nobody has a clue how to use it and it doesn’t work if you’re not connected to WiFi.
We’re out of blue pens. What’s the process for ordering new office supplies?
-I would sign this if I had a pen
Dear I Would Sign,
If you ever want to have any hope of seeing your precious pens any time in the next decade then you need to put in some serious face time with your office management specialist. I hear she likes cupcakes and being told her “I heart Jesus” neck lanyard is totally appropriate for the workplace environment.
I’m currently an intern at a federal agency, and I’m really hoping to get a full-time job offer for after I graduate. Any advice?
-Eager Grad Student
I wish I could tell you that face time is the answer, I really do. But in this case if you put your head in the face time region they’re bound to tell you to eat shit. My advice is to wait until you’re rich and fifty and try to become a political appointee.
I read that the Defense Department has started laying off temporary workers. If their budget gets cut further will our military be understaffed?
No need to worry. Just like the other agencies, the Defense Department has an endless supply of very hungry unpaid interns who would gladly eat a nice face time sandwich.
I just started in the government after spending the last five years waiting for my security clearance, and I’m wondering, will any of my unused vacation hours carry over to 2013?
-Cooped up at Commerce
There is a simple formula for calculating how much government vacation time carries over: take the total number of hours remaining. That’s it. The catch is that your boss won’t ever let you take time off because he’s worried about having enough coverage in the section. We call that a catch-75, which is what it costs the government to catch 22.
Whenever someone travels abroad they are supposed to bring back treats for the office. Well, I was in Geneva for a conference last week and I just plumb forgot. SOS!
This one’s a piece of cake. Buy a Toblerone at Safeway and say it’s from Switzerland. Or, even better, do what the rest of us do and just order something online.
I read that if we go over the fiscal cliff then all agencies will have their budgets cut by 8%. How will that affect bureaucrats like us?
For us it will be nonbusiness as usual. Let’s face it: if we cared about things like getting raises or finding supplies in the supply closet or maybe one day upgrading to Windows 98 we would work for one of those fancy pants private companies like Wal-Mart. Okay, I admit it, some of us do work nights and weekends, but that’s only until we reach 10 years of service and the government forgives our student debt.
My boss gave out Christmas cards emblazoned with Bible quotes. As a Muslim, how should I respond?
-Not Well Versed
Dear Not Well,
You can take the high road and say thank you, or you can take the holy road and send him a card with a quote from the Quran. Good luck getting your clearance renewed.
Who is going to win the election and how will that affect my agency?
-IDK at ITA
Second things first. Count the number of people who have to approve every memo you write and divide by six. If the answer is enough to form a football team, nothing will change no matter who’s in charge. Take as evidence the photo of President Gerald Ford still hanging in your office. As for who will win the election, I’ll have to turn to my friend the forecaster.
Who is going to win the election?
As few modern elections as we’ve had, the gold mine of statistical data available to forecasters is astonishing. For instance, did you know that an incumbent president has never lost a bid for reelection in a year that was also a prime number? True, there’s never been one, but still.
And get this: if on election day the high temperature in seven or more states that last voted Democrat is two or more degrees warmer than the high temperature on election day four years prior, then three to five of those states are anywhere from ten to fifteen percent more likely to vote Republican this election cycle.
This one’s my favorite. Take the letters in the middle names of each of the top two candidates. If, when combined, the Scrabble sum of those letters played across a double word score is less than the number of points scored by playing the last name of the third party candidate on a triple word score, then the third party candidate will win two electoral votes in Nebraska.
Now to make the call on the upcoming election consider this: in instances where an incumbent president is younger than his opponent by the square of the length of his time in office, the challenger has won two out of three elections in which half the difference in their ages was less than twice the number of times the New York Yankees won the World Series in the previous decade. The analysis would be more robust if I had comparable data for the Chicago Cubs, but the record book doesn’t go back that far.
I am a government employee who wants to host a fundraiser to support my candidate in the upcoming election. Are there any special rules I should be aware of?
-Eager in Arlington
The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from taking part in most political activities, including soliciting contributions and hosting fundraisers. It is a very strict law and it is vigilantly enforced. Good thing it doesn’t apply whatsoever to family members. Tell your brother my check is in the mail.
I have been paying my daughter a weekly allowance with an annual raise since she was six. She is now 47 and bankrupting me. How do I cut her benefits without losing her love?
-Dr. Leo Simmons
Establish a bi-parental commission to identify ways to reduce household expenditures. When your wife pushes for slashing allowance benefits call her heartless and propose instead that she should ask her brother Rich to foot the bill. After all, that cheapskate hardly paid his fair share back in April when you “went in together” on that iPad for your daughter’s birthday.
Is it true that the government can never fire people?
-Nicole from Budget
I SMOKE POT, LEAK SECRET MEMOS, AND SPY FOR CHINA. We’ll find out soon.
I noticed that Congress is in recess. Where do they go? Who is making the laws in the meantime?
The Congressional playground is on the southwest corner of the Capitol. Senators prefer to play in the reflecting pool, while members of the House like picking leaves in the Botanic Garden. Recess time also give the president a break so he can go to the dentist and make other necessary appointments. The laws break too, which gives the Justice
My first trip for work is coming up next week. Am I allowed to take a taxi to and from the airport or should I use public transportation?
-New to E2 Travel Solutions
The government only requires receipts for travel expenses above $75. You should therefore take a $74.99 taxi everywhere you go. Add in comp time and per diem and this trip could be your ticket to early retirement.
I am sitting in a meeting that is super boring. How can I play solitaire on my phone without being super obvious?
Place your phone on your lap to hide it, but avoid the rookie mistake of looking down. Instead position a mirror at waist level to reflect the screen. Attach a second mirror to your notebook and hold it at such an angle as to capture the reflection from the first mirror, rendering the image right side up and eye level. Pretend to take notes with your visible hand while moving red jack to black queen under the table with the other. Wait a minute, is this a conference call?
Please help me resolve a debate I’m having with a colleague. What is the appropriate etiquette for using the mute button during conference calls?
-Silent at State
The proper way to ———- is to always ————— but never —- ——— or else ———– potatoes. Got it?
Our summer intern is unpaid. What work am I legally allowed to ask her to do without contravening the Fair Labor Standards Act?
Dear You Big CC,
An unpaid internship is legal if the employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. So ask her to do whatever you want, and just wait a few weeks before deriving advantage from it.
I hate the government interfering in my life. On an unrelated note, I love having the dollar as a stable and reliable means of exchange, I love subsidized oil, I love highways, I love national defense, I love food safety regulations, I love the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I love those cancer warning labels on cigarette boxes.
-O. Paul Ease
How would you like to run for the Republican presidential nomination?
What does it mean when they say that the Federal Reserve is quasigovernmental?
The Federal Reserve System is composed of 12 regional banks registered as corporations and one government entity in Washington. The regional banks are owned by the commercial banks which provide most financial political appointees and which have been owned by the government since the bailout. It’s enough to make you quasi-queasy.
Republicans say the government is too big and spends too much money, but my agency is full of cheapskates and my office is a dump. What gives?
-Cramped in Coach Class
Aside from the Defense Department you could fit all of the budgets of all the government agencies combined inside the cockpit of a single F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. You’re not soft on defense, are you? Good, then suck it up and milk that $125 a month transit subsidy for all it’s worth.
Before starting my new job as a civil servant I need to go shopping for work clothes. What is the dress code like?
-Dapper in the District
Shirts may be blue, sky blue, light blue, powder blue, or cobalt. For trousers there are fifty shades of grey, any of which will be sure to arouse not just the envy of your colleagues as you crack the regulatory whip.