(Straight from the horse's
There is such a huge food surplus in this country that in order to keep prices inflated, the United States Government actually pays some farmers not to grow vegetables. I plan to make money from this. A few weeks ago I wrote the government a letter that said, "Dear Sirs: I did not grow anything this year. Please send me $126,000."
I used to work for a federal agency. I could tell you which one but I'd have to kill you. Ha ha! I love saying that. Let's just call it the No Such Agency (NSA) for the sake of anonymity.
I retired in 2018, so I am no longer useful to the government. Or society. Or anyone.
Note: I wrote the rest of this book in 2004. I wanted to wait until I retired before I wrote it, but there were several factors that convinced me to write it more than a decade before my planned separation from service. First of all, I was running out of material. I was releasing a new book every year since I got my first computer in 1997. It's not easy maintaining this breakneck pace in order to keep you people entertained. Second, I planned to take it easy when I retired. I didn't want to have any unfinished business awaiting me in my golden years. I knew that all I'd want to do is relax, travel, read, shtup, eat, sleep, drink, and brew beer. And finally, if either you or I were to die before I got around to writing this, you'd never get to see it.
Located inside an Army base, NSA is one of those agencies that require a Top Secret clearance in order to work there. That might sound impressive if you're an "outsider", but the truth of the matter is that having a clearance doesn't necessarily mean that someone is intelligent, nice or productive. All it means is that he or she (hypothetically) doesn't use illegal drugs, isn't a closet homosexual, and does not plan to commit espionage. That's all. Beyond that, cleared people are just like the rest of us: needy and imperfect. Plenty of cleared personnel are assholes: they cut you off in traffic, give little effort to their jobs, and/or use bathroom stalls designated for the handicapped. I don't understand that last one. There can be half a dozen empty stalls, and some shmuck will walk all the way past them in order to use the big one. Why? Are they having a bake sale in there?
What follows are some anecdotes and random bits of information about what goes on within NSA. This is only a fraction of what I know; I can't tell you the rest because it's classified.
I got fired from the first job I ever had. I don't even know why. I was minding my own business one day when my boss came over to my desk, woke me up and said, "You're fired."
All governments (federal, state, county, city) typically pay less than the private sector. Then why do so many people take government jobs? Your first thought might be that these people are slow, stupid or lazy, so virtually no company that has to make a profit would hire them and therefore the only type of position they could ever hope to find that doesn't involve wearing a name tag or a hairnet is public service. If you thought that, then you'd be wrong. Well, nine percent of the time anyway. That's right - almost one out of every ten government employees are competent and motivated and do not have a criminal record. So why do these people stay out of the private sector?
Most government jobs offer very good benefits. A lot of people are willing to trade a high salary for perks such as health insurance, time off, pension, and opportunities for profit via graft and corruption. Let's look at these and other benefits individually.
The federal retirement system is quite good. In addition to a 401(k) plan, a substantial pension awaits federal employees: they receive a certain percentage of their salary from the day they retire until the day they die. They get tens of thousands of dollars every year merely for existing, even though they're not working (which is pretty much the same deal they had during their careers). Compare this with many private companies that might pay higher salaries but have no pension, forcing many employees to devise their own retirement plan, the most common one consisting mainly of lottery tickets.
Since government agencies have no competition and do not have to be very efficient, public service is usually a low-stress undertaking. Without deadlines and profit considerations, government employees can chug along at an easy pace, presenting their work whenever they get it done (that is, if they get it done). If Person A is waiting for Person B to finish something and Person B is taking longer than one would reasonably expect it to take, Person A need not get very upset because his salary is not diminished by anyone else's lethargy or incompetence.
A job in the public sector means substantial time off. For example, federal employees get 10 paid holidays (including hokey holidays like Columbus Day), 13 paid sick days (where you can pretend you're sick and not come in - who's gonna check?), and several weeks of paid annual leave per year. The amount of paid annual leave increases with the amount of time one has been in federal service: two and a half weeks for up to 3 years of service, four weeks for 3-15 years, and over five weeks for 15 or more years. I guess the government figures that if people aren't working anyway, let's at least allow them to stay home so they can use their own plumbing.
The government workweek is typically 40 hours. If you work longer than that, you get credit for it: you can take that much more time off at a later date. You don't always get thusly compensated in private industry. In fact, many private sector jobs require longer workweeks, and this often offsets the higher salary one receives. For example, if a public servant making $60,000 a year and working 40 hours a week leaves for a $75,000-a-year private sector job that involves 50-hour workweeks, then he is not, on an hourly basis, making any more than he did at his old job. Plus at his new job he will actually be required to produce something.
Work schedules are often quite flexible. For example, on my job I can come and go as I please, as long as I work 40-hour weeks. I can arrive at 3:00 AM or noon, leave at noon or midnight, work 10 hours one day and 6 hours the next, or take a day of annual leave at a moment's notice. This allows me to schedule my job around my life, not vice versa. Often I get up at 5:00 in the morning and go to work, which allows me to come home by mid-afternoon. Why do I choose to leave my warm bed before the sun comes up and arrive at my desk at some ungodly cow-milking hour? Because I'm married.
Federal employment is great for non-smokers because smoking has been banned inside government buildings since 1990. The number of illnesses among employees has been reduced as a direct result of better air quality, and many smokers have either quit or cut back because it's no longer convenient to smoke at work. I had one boss who used to chain smoke, and he completely quit smoking by going on "the patch", although he has trouble keeping it lit.
One very important benefit is job security. The high salary to be made in private industry is not guaranteed. Companies sometimes have to downsize, and that could mean the axe for you. What good is it to land a six-figure job if you get laid off in 3 months? Then youíll have to repeat the job interviewing process, which fills you with about as much joy and dignity as being arrested for child molestation.
Government employment goes beyond secure. It's virtually a sure thing. You would not believe the wastes of flesh that the government keeps on its payroll. There are people who do nothing but read the newspaper, go outside for smoke breaks, read and send jokes through e-mail, and talk about non-work-related stuff with other employees. Even when these people are shown to be abusing their employment status, usually a verbal reprimand is the only result. Why? One reason is that firing a civil servant merely because he or she refuses to work will cause the employee to file a lawsuit under the pretense that he or she was let go because of age, gender, sexual preference, or whatever, instead of the real reason, which is that he or she is a useless pile of shit. For example, on more than one occasion I've had people tell me about minority underlings who did zero work, were engaged in personal phone calls for most of the day, and habitually left before their shift was over (not that staying for their full shift would have mattered since they produced nothing anyway). They continued their fraudulent ways despite numerous consultations with their supervisors, and when they didn't get promoted they filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office, claiming racial discrimination as the reason they weren't promoted. The claims were found to be unsubstantiated, but you know what? They got to keep their jobs. That's right, folks: your tax dollars are giving them decades of undeserved paychecks and will someday pay their pensions, because a government employee pretty much has to commit treason or kill someone in order to get fired.
Now before you accuse me of being a racist, I used the previous example only to illustrate how some people slip through the cracks and get away with not working. In no way did I intend to imply that minorities are any worse than majorities. On the contrary, the percentage of people who do not earn their salary is about the same across all ethnic and gender groups. There are plenty of majority people who abuse the system; they just do it without resorting to the EEO Office. The kind of work ethic a person has is an individual thing and has nothing to do with color or gender. I've seen a lot of minority folks who are both willing to work hard and very good at what they do. Most of them do not slack off and then play the race card in order to escape punishment - the people who do that are in the minority (no pun intended).
Health insurance is about 75% subsidized for government employees. For example, if your health care plan would cost you $2800 per year as an individual, your yearly premium as a federal employee would be about $700. You also get to choose from among several health care plans. I chose an HMO for its low cost, but unfortunately the doctors I have to choose from are of dubious talent. The primary care physician I go to is so old that at his birthday parties, people huddle around the cake for warmth. During my last visit he squeezed my knee and told me to cough; then he hit me in the balls with a hammer.
NSA has lots of different clubs, including a schooner club, book club, gay/lesbian club, genealogy club, ski club, Bible club, yacht club, and singles club, to name a few. There's even an Overeaters Anonymous support group (which puzzles me: how can it be anonymous when people show up in person?). There are also a number of sports leagues, where many employees enjoy the drama of athletic competition and some demonstrate what shmucks they are. I mean, a person has to be pretty low to cheat at softball.
The NSA cafeteria is a step up from other cafeterias, by which I mean that it's more expensive. You can buy wilted lettuce at the salad bar for only $7 a pound or spend half a day's wages on a personal pizza and an angina burger. There's a television in there so employees can watch informative and educational programming such as game shows while eating their coronary cuisine. Yessir, there's no better way to enjoy your lunch than by watching Bob Barker's snow-covered coconut and hearing the delighted yet annoying screams of unemployed people winning prizes.
I don't know about other government agencies, but I have found lots of mobility at NSA. If you don't like your boss or your coworkers you can usually get placed in another office. In private industry this is often not an option, and the only way to escape a bad work environment is to leave the company. That sucks: either deal with assholes or starve. It's like ordering at McDonald's.
New career-saving technique for corporate underlings: the Hindlick Maneuver.
Probably the most well-known (and ridiculed) thing about government is the widespread inefficiency. With all the laziness and incompetence, it's a wonder that anything gets done at all. Even within the "intelligence community" - which is critically important to our national security - many government employees have a "they-can't-fire-me" attitude similar to the one found among the UAW and the Teamsters, the difference being that autoworkers and truckers at least work. It never ceases to amaze me that members of my own species can fail to perform simple tasks such as filling out a form or delivering something from Point A to Point B. It can't be sheer stupidity, since these people are quite capable of feeding themselves and operating automobiles (though probably not very well). The culprit has to be laziness: people have no incentive to put in more than minimal effort because they get paid the same regardless. It is these folks who make the term "government worker" an oxymoron. An obvious question is: why doesn't someone threaten to fire these slugs if they don't start doing their fair share? Well, there are at least two reasons. First, as I mentioned earlier, no one's salary is diminished due to someone else's failure to produce, so there is no monetary incentive to report anyone. Second, no one wants to create conflict: if you blow the whistle on someone, you will make an enemy and live with the possibility that he'll go postal on you.
So if government employees (also referred to as "govvies") aren't working, then what are they doing? Why, everything but work, of course: surfing the Web, reading and posting to newsgroups, taking smoke breaks, making personal phone calls, updating their résumés, discussing shopping and sports and their kids, going to long luncheons, reading newspapers, decorating doors during the holiday season, and sending jokes via E-mail. Many of them not only do very little work, but also make no bones about it because they're so confident that they won't get fired or even reprimanded for being completely useless that they have become too lazy to even attempt to put up a facade. Even more disconcerting is the fact that this nonproductive behavior is tolerated from contractors as well. I know because I've seen it firsthand. For example, in 1998, five additional personnel (three contractors and two govvies) were brought into my office ostensibly to do some work. Instead, they acted as though they lived there: the four women gabbed about boyfriends, babies, husbands and shopping; and the man played computer games, read the newspaper and slept at his desk. Despite numerous complaints, nothing was done. I even quietly brought my boss over to witness the guy sleeping with his feet on the desk and a newspaper draped over his chest like a homeless person, and still nothing was done. The women, meanwhile, treated the office like a social club, and one of them was so loud that she annoyed people several cubicles away. Unfortunately she sat right next to me, and my train of thought was constantly interrupted because she was one of those people who laughs after everything she says. After a few weeks of fantasizing about killing her in various ways, I offered several people hundreds of dollars to switch desks with me, and all of them understandably refused. I finally took it upon myself to move my computer and my stuff to a remote, deskless corner of the room and work at a small table. The offending people were eventually relocated, but that merely displaced the problem to another office because none of them were reprimanded.
Fraud, waste and abuse happen in other areas of government too. Unfortunately, as a federal employee, I am not allowed to write about those organizations without their consent. There is a particular incident that I wanted to tell you about, but the agency in question gently told me not to or else they would do something to me that involves feathers and tar. I understand their concern. I mean, if I were to tell you that your tax dollars were being used to buy drugs and hookers, you might get the wrong impression.
Perhaps nowhere is the lackadaisical attitude toward work better exemplified than in the following conversation which might or might not have occurred between two of my coworkers:
|Ralph:||"Hey, good morning. It's not even 10:00 AM. Kind of early for you, isn't it?"|
|Harry:||"Yeah, well, we have that 10:00 meeting today."|
|Ralph:||"It was at 9:00."|
|Ralph:||"Don't worry - you didn't miss much. Basically we just decided when the next meeting will be."|
|Harry:||"When will it be?"|
|Harry:||"All right, I'll see you at that one."|
|Ralph:||"No you won't. I plan to be sick that day."|
|Harry:||"Isn't government employment great?"|
|Ralph:||"Yeah. But some people don't appreciate it. Take Sally over there - sometimes she stays here as late as 3:00."|
|Harry:||"What a moron."|
Periodically, Congress (motto: "Extorting and wasting your money since 1776") will urge NSA to do something about its inefficiency. The most popular (and ineffective) remedy is to reorganize. This has been tried several times since I started working there, and each time it has been a miserable failure. Yet the folks in management, who apparently have the collective IQ of sheep dip, insist on attempting this exercise in futility time and time again. I think we can guess why they do this: it gives the illusion that they're doing something helpful. It might be useless activity, but it is activity nonetheless. It looks like work, and that's all they need in order to justify their existence. It raises neither the quality nor the quantity of NSA's output, but the United States Government doesn't seem to care.
I'll never forget one particular re-org in 1994. I was taken off the project I had been working on and put into a newly formed group with people I had never met. I was somewhat disappointed and disoriented, but at least I would get to work on something new and interesting because surely the managers that had shuffled us around knew what they were doing and had concrete plans for all of us; after all, the reorganization was designed to economize our efforts and reduce waste. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. I went for months without a work assignment. I would beg my supervisor for something to keep my brain stimulated, but she couldn't give me any assignments because her "superiors" hadn't figured out what direction we were going in. In other words, the reorganization had been done without a valid plan, without knowing how to use the new distribution of resources, with management's heads planted firmly up their collective asses. It was big government once again demonstrating its waste and inefficiency. There were a lot of people in circumstances similar to mine, but, unlike me, they seemed to be quite content sitting around twiddling their thumbs. I cannot do that. I searched and found an office that had plenty of challenging research and development work for me, so I left my useless office and never looked back. No tearful departure. No good-bye luncheon. Just the good feeling of knowing that I had made the right decision.
If your car breaks down, can you make it run by rearranging the parts under the hood? No. You keep the good parts exactly where they are and repair or replace the defective part(s). Similarly, the way to run things more efficiently in any organization is not to move people to different locations, but for managers to keep their employees productive and reprimand them when they go for long periods without producing anything. Reorganization does nothing more than 1) lower hard workers' productivity by removing them from efforts that they are most proficient at, and 2) allow slackers to continue doing nothing in a different office.
Reorganizations are just one reason that many employees run from NSA like rats from a burning ship. They can't bring themselves to have any sense of loyalty to a place that is run by morons, so they keep their résumés more up to date than their promotion folders and leave as soon as a good offer comes along. Those of us who remain there do so mostly for the job security and the increased amount of vacation time that comes with seniority, and we cope by learning to laugh and displaying Dilbert cartoons in our cubicles instead of getting angry at management blunders. We put up with bureaucratic bullshit because no matter how badly the morons upstairs screw things up, our salaries don't get cut. Of course, the management cretins get paid more, but that's the way government works: the most intelligent folks stay on the bottom while the idiots who are unable to perform useful work rise to the top where they get paid a lot more money to do less.
In 1990 an absurd idea called "furloughing" was introduced as a supposed way to stay within budget (as though staying within budget had ever been achieved before). Every NSA employee received a letter announcing the possibility of an upcoming furlough. Here is that letter, with my translations in brackets.
This is a notice of proposed action to furlough you from your position no earlier than 30 days from receipt of this notice [we're breaking the news to you gently so you won't fly through the roof when it happens]. A "furlough" is a temporary status without duties and pay because of lack of work or funds or for other nondisciplinary reasons [you've been good, but we're gonna screw you anyway]. NSA is currently under a sequestration [a big word that we hope will confuse you and thereby divert your attention from the problem at hand] order pursuant to the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 [if we weren't such short-sighted imbeciles, that legislation never would have been necessary in the first place]. Although many actions are being taken within NSA to curtail spending [for example, we are replacing the $300 paper clips with $225 paper clips], this furlough is necessary in order to promote the efficiency of the service by complying with the law and assuring that NSA conducts its financial affairs with the funds available in fiscal year 1991 [we can't even balance our own checkbooks, let alone a national budget]. This action affects all civilian employees currently in a pay status; it does not affect military members [of course not - they just stand outside and smoke all day anyway, so furloughing them would be redundant].
If a furlough would cause you undue financial hardship, you may submit a request for exemption [and you really think we'll listen?]. Your request will be given full consideration [we'll pass it around, laugh at it, make it into a paper airplane, and then turn you down].
You may review the official records relied on to support this action. They are available in the Administrative Policy Office [in Fiji].
Director of Civilian Personnel
It was not until 1995 that an actual furlough took place. Many employees from several federal agencies were forced to take several days off - that is, they were forced to stop not working - while government officials decided whether to pay them for this leave. I'm not sure how it worked out for people in other agencies, but folks at NSA who were furloughed (including me) ended up getting paid for the time off, effectively receiving several extra days of paid vacation. The furlough fiasco was the most laughable failure since Walter Mondale.
I used to think I was tired from lack of sleep, but I found out the real reason: I'm tired because I'm overworked. The population of the USA is 287 million. 106 million are retired. That leaves 181 million to do the work. There are 96 million infants, toddlers and students, which leaves 85 million to do the work. 24 million of these are housewives. That leaves 61 million to do the work. Of this there are 57 million federal, state, county and city employees who do nothing, leaving 4 million to do the work. 1.3 million are in the Armed Forces, which leaves 2.7 million to do the work. At any given time there are 1,568,000 people in hospitals, leaving 1,132,000 to do the work. There are 1,131,998 people in prisons. That leaves two people to do the work: you and me. And you're sitting on your ass reading this.
In the Foreword I mentioned that having a security clearance doesn't necessarily indicate good character. Remember, nobody is perfect (except me). You can do all the background investigations and lie detector tests you want, weeding out felons and drug users and car salesmen, but the ones who make it through the filter will still have weaknesses and vices. If NSA toughened the screening process so that only the strongest, most intelligent and responsible people got clearances, it would be unable to recruit nearly enough people to fill all of its job vacancies. Hence it has to hire average people, many of who commit fraud, waste and abuse. For example, in the final three years of the last millennium alone, more than 450 NSA employees were caught stealing government property, slacking off, making personal purchases with their government charge cards, taking illegal drugs, using abusive language, or exhibiting violent behavior. Now, imagine how much worse it must be at agencies that don't do extensive background investigations!
Even our top leaders are, for the most part, average people in terms of morality, intelligence or both (sometimes below average). Why? Because it takes much more ego than ethics or brains to schmooze your way to a high political office. Sometimes a person doesn't even need any personal abilities. Look at George W. Bush. Here is a man who, if it weren't for his father's political power, would be assistant manager at a Taco Bell.
So the next time you read about some government scandal involving gross inefficiency or misspending of funds or abuse of power, remember who the people in question are: average, corruptible opportunists. Most of them aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, and many of them often like to take the path of least resistance. If you would expect federal employees to screw up instead of viewing them as above-average people who should be responsible all the time, then maybe you wouldn't get upset about their sloth and idiocy.
I don't mean to imply that all government employees are just a bunch of lazy, incompetent dolts. Furthermore, worthlessness is by no means confined to the government - many people in private industry are just as devoid of value as their federal counterparts. A certain percentage of people are uncreative automatons who do just enough to perform their required duties, make no extra effort to improve processes or help people, live their lives taking the easy way out, and never realize their human potential. A considerably smaller percentage ever fully develop and use their talents and capacities. These uncommon individuals represent the "growing tip" of humanity: those who work hard toward lofty, meaningful goals even at the expense of their own comfort and popularity. They have grown past petty ego and security issues so that they can now pursue higher needs such as accomplishment and fulfillment. These self-actualized folks are the ones who innovate new and better ideas, processes and tools which help the human condition; and if they don't invent anything, they at least do their work well - they must do it well, for they are so dedicated that they could not live with themselves if they did a shitty job. Call them geeky, Type A, anal-retentive or what have you, but their commitment to excellence benefits us all. They have the discipline it takes to do things right. They are quite able to postpone pleasure - something which, sadly, many people seem incapable of doing. They possess the courage to ignore criticism and ridicule in order to do what is important to them, for they are more concerned with getting the job done than they are with protecting their egos. They enjoy work and they're aware of the pleasure of doing a good job. They are fully human and have a clear perception of right and wrong. They experience righteous indignation when others slack off, because each slacker occupies a position that some hard-working individual is thus deprived of. They have utter contempt for lazy people, and they can't understand how a human being can live an unproductive life without experiencing emptiness, boredom and meaninglessness.
Was that last paragraph difficult to understand? If so, then don't worry - it only means that you're a drone who goes through life avoiding personal growth and who thus exists in mediocrity. You're not alone, though. On the contrary, you're in the majority. It is very easy to coast in our society, riding around in motorized vehicles, watching television, consuming artery-clogging food, taking various medications for every ache and pain, spending decades "working" at white collar jobs and eventually retiring on a company pension and/or Social Security. The technologies currently in place make it possible for the vast majority of us to live long lives without ever having to hunt or grow food, build dwellings or make clothing. As a result, the quantity of humanity goes up while the quality, as a whole, goes down. Some of us use our educational, recreational and vocational opportunities quite well and thereby develop ourselves further than would be possible for any caveman; but a lot of people prefer to take the easy way out, using as much technology and as little mental and physical energy as possible, thus remaining stupider and weaker than the average Neanderthal.
Okay, I'm back from my little tangent. Where was I? Oh yeah, not all government employees are worthless. I've met some (okay, two) federal workers who are geniuses. Of course, "genius" in this context means "walks erect". No, seriously, these folks have produced computer software whose quality and robustness rival that of commercial products. They have received patents for their work. There are other government workers who are also quite intelligent, and I know this because I can pick them out in a crowd: the smartest people in any organization tend to be feeble, bald and spectacled, and have beards that make them look like trolls. And the men look even weirder.
Speaking of looking weird, let me illustrate just how common the dweeb archetype is at my agency. On one particular Halloween I came to work dressed as a nerd. My costume consisted of: geeky black spectacle frames, with white tape on the nose piece; a plaid shirt buttoned all the way up; a breast pocket full of pens; horrible 1970s-style pink dress pants, hemmed so that they went only two-thirds of the way down my shins; an unzipped fly, with part of my shirt pulled out through it; black socks; white sneakers; and a "kick me" sign taped to my back. I spent about an hour or so roaming the halls that day to see what other costumes there were and to let people see mine. Very few people were in costume so I was sure that I would stand out like a sore thumb. However, I blended in so well with the largely geek population that hardly anyone even gave me a second look. Not only that, five people either pointed out that my fly was open or came up to me from behind to tell me that someone had put a sign on my back.
I'd like to end this chapter by talking about NSA's military employees. That's right - people who you might think would be shooting guns and flying planes are sitting behind desks. What's next? Send pregnant secretaries to the front lines?
Soldiers live pretty comfortably around NSA. I have on many occasions been inside the "barracks", only to find that there is not, as we see in movies, a big room filled with bunk beds. Recruits each get their own room, with heat and air-conditioning and a semi-private bathroom and electrical outlets into which to plug their televisions and refrigerators. These kids live like college students. Once they reach the rank of sergeant and/or get married, a lot of them get to live outside the base in townhouses and single-family homes. These are today's electronic warriors, sitting behind desks and driving Toyotas and watching rented movies on their VCRs. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Some folks might say that soldiers shouldn't be allowed such luxury, but I disagree. Should the people who protect our way of life be deprived of privacy and electricity while draft dodgers and dishonest CEOs enjoy all the material comforts? Yeah, that'd be smart. While we're at it, let's ask the military to take over an island so we can give Kenneth Lay and O.J. Simpson their own golf course.
As part of the effort to reduce unnecessary spending, the government is giving away less money than it used to for nonessential military goings-on. This means that soldiers sometimes have to raise funds to help pay for dances and other social events. How do they do this? Do they put in overtime hours? Do they work part-time jobs at night? Nope. They sell donuts to NSA employees. You know how soldiers are portrayed in movies as courageous, manly, rifle-toting heroes? It's difficult for me to preserve that image when many of the soldiers I see are sedentary men and women selling Krispy Kremes during their "work" hours.
I guess I should state that I am not denouncing the members of our armed forces (especially since many of them have access to firearms). I tip my hat to the soldiers who defend us against evil regimes and thereby make it possible for us to live in safety and freedom. They do such a good job buffering us from attack that sometimes we forget our enemies even exist! Whenever I hear someone proclaim that we should downsize the military, it further strengthens my conviction that our soldiers are doing a superb job: it is only because they defend us so well that bleeding-heart liberals enjoy freedom of speech and are therefore able to criticize the very institution that protects them.
They invented a machine that does the work of 10 government employees. It goes to the bathroom 37 times, takes 42 smoke breaks, and eats 28 donuts.
The promotion process at NSA has always been bullshit. Merit is not as big a factor as it should be. Usually the state of the current fiscal year's budget determines how many promotions there will be. Then that number of people are promoted. If more than that number deserve to be promoted, then some of them will get passed over. If fewer than that number deserve a promotion, then some undeserving people will get a pay raise. The selection process has historically involved spending thousands of man-hours (or is it person-hours?) considering candidates' time in their present grade, ethnic background, and how well their personnel summary is written. Eventually the time-in-grade criterion was dropped and the personnel summary was replaced with another document, but to this day the promotion process still requires thousands of man-hours, and promotions continue to be based more on the ability to toot one's own horn than on one's accomplishments. What people have actually done is never as wonderful as what they write, so merit can never be honestly assessed. People assessing employees' promotability might or might not fully grasp what someone actually did on a project, but if what they read sounds impressive, they are more likely to promote this person. For example, if all someone did was get pens and paper from the supply room, and he habitually forgot things so that he had to make many more trips than should have been necessary, then he can write: "Provided office tools to dozens of employees. Traveled extensively, often revisiting locations in order to complete the mission."
We've tried many different performance evaluation systems at the Island of Misfit Toys -- I mean, NSA -- because managers cannot say "Bob, you're useless" or "Mary, if it weren't for your three hours of smoke breaks, two hours of personal phone calls and three hours surfing the Web every day, you might be able to actually produce something." So we, in the spirit of Political Correctness (motto: "Omitting the obvious since 1985"), hold back our true feelings, never pointing out the maggots, so that everyone gets a good evaluation. The result is that lazy and incompetent employees often receive the same treatment as those who are actually worth their salt. Say you have a really stupid employee. Let's call him "Ben". He continually does things wrong, and even when he does them right it takes him so long that a secretary who makes one third of his salary could have gotten it done in one tenth the time. How many supervisors are going to give him a bad evaluation? I think the last place that happened was the Post Office. We all regard our personal safety and comfort to be much more important than honestly assessing a moron's incompetence. Many managers think, "There are a lot of other wastes of protoplasm who draw decades of undeserved biweekly paychecks, so why should this guy be singled out? What difference would it make in the grand scheme of things? I'm not going to risk getting beaten up or shot in order to keep him from getting an undeserved promotion when all he has to do is transfer to another office where he will eventually get promoted anyway." And so, for a number of managers, an atmosphere of fear and apathy encompasses the employee evaluation process.
Let's face it. A completely honest, accurate summary of one's professional accomplishments has never been written. People just want more money and bosses just want to get their underlings promoted, so exaggerated and downright false claims are made. A supervisor might write, "Bob implemented an enhanced design which greatly improved operational efficiency." If he were to tell it like it really is, he'd write, "Bob ate donuts, stole office supplies, downloaded pornography from the Internet, sent and received personal E-mail, read newspapers, made personal phone calls, took illegitimate sick days, used the laser printer to make copies of his résumé, and sold Girl Scout cookies for his daughter. He couldn't do less work if he were in a coma."
In the early 1990s the government tried to remedy the nebulous and misleading nature of the promotion process with something called Inventory of Attributes. Supervisors used a numerical scale to rate underlings on things such as innovativeness, effectiveness in working with other people, initiative, and advancement potential. This system just begged to be abused. Supervisors would artificially inflate the numbers in order to get their workers promoted. The few who wrote honest numbers noticed that their people were getting passed over, so they would dishonestly raise the numbers for the next promotion cycle in order to keep up with all the other liars.
In the late 1990s the government instituted another rating system called the Personal Performance Process, or "P3" for short. Each employee was required to attend an 8-hour class about this new system. I'll never forget that waste of a day. As I picked up the two pounds of propaganda that had been issued to each employee, I thought of all those poor trees screaming, "No! I'd give myself for text books, and maybe even the Limbaugh Letter, but please, for God's sake, not P3!" It was a tiring day as IQ points diffused out of my brain with the presentation of each P3 concept, such as "creating objectives" and "evaluating performance". I had other ideas that could have been relevant, such as "doing work", but I wisely kept silent so as not to dampen the P3 spirit. The instructors slowly chugged through elemental concepts that would have made Rainman say, "Okay, Einstein, let's turn up the intelligence a bit!" It was interesting how they kept saying, "Stop me if I'm going too fast," as though we were all stoned. The class was about as exciting as watching paint dry. Yessir, even a congressional hearing would have been intellectually challenging by comparison; after all, I'd have had to decide which kind of beer to drink.
As the day dragged on, my mind both bored and racing (the only productive thing I did all day was take a giant constitutional at lunchtime), it became apparent that we were being treated like children. Exercises such as "determining your objectives" implied that none of us knew what the hell we did for a living. Anybody who honestly doesn't know what he does all day is wasting his life. I don't know about anyone else, but if I lived like that, I'd kill myself (pausing to wipe out everyone on the set of Montel first). If someone asks you what you do for a living and you're at a loss to come up with an answer, then for chrissake get your head out of your ass.
The main difference between P3 (motto: "A thorn in your side since 1997") and all the previous performance appraisal systems was the addition of another time-consuming form that all employees who were bucking for promotion had to fill out. It was called the Employee Performance Assessment (EPA). When completed, it was pretty much just a reiteration of what one had already put in one's personnel summary. I'd like to know which mental midgets came up with this idea. Probably the folks in the Department of Redundancy Department. Anyway, P3 lasted for about eight years before being replaced with yet another system. I think that P3 could have been made more popular if NSA had hired celebrities to promote it. For example, Yoko Ono's schedule has been pretty empty for a while. Okay, so her music sounds like cattle being slaughtered, but imagine the subconscious brainwashing that could have been achieved if the Muzak speakers had played her version of "Give P3 a Chance".
In autumn of 2000, NSA made yet another change to the promotion process: every employee would write an "internal résumé". This was not much of a problem since half the work force was looking into employment elsewhere, hence their résumés were already up to date. However, the NSA résumé format is a bit different from conventional formats:
Name: ____________________________ Name correctly spelled: ____________________________ Number of years you have been here: __________ Number of those years you have actually worked: _______ Job title: ____________________________ What you would be doing if you actually did what your job title implies: _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ What you actually do (check all that apply): ___ fill coffee pot ___ bring in donuts ___ read newspaper ___ run sports betting pools ___ stock fridge with sodas ___ smoke ___ call your broker ___ file/paint nails ___ complain Can you give us one reason not to fire you? ________________________________________________________ We didn't think so.
In order to save taxpayer money, the No Such Agency has on several occasions offered early retirement incentives, which has resulted in people leaving the government work force and coming back into NSA spaces as contractors who charge twice what they used to get paid as federal employees. I fail to see the savings, but I assume the government executives know what they're doing because if they didn't, they couldn't possibly have attained their positions. (Hahahahahahaha!)
From the mid-1980s until 2002, an evaluation system called the Technical Track was used in order to measure technical people's worth. Employees could attain different titles by completing different combinations of various levels of accomplishments in areas such as technical achievement, leadership, excellence, training, community service and diversity of experience. Three accomplishment levels were recognized by the Technical Track: Basic, Important and Significant. Here is one example of each:
Basic - Developed software to better balance batch and interactive system loads. This required a strong understanding of the operating system.
Important - Developed a subsystem that enabled multiple slow speed special processors to feed data to a UNIX system with a minimum of cabling.
Significant - Developed several important network technologies for use by NSA.
There were three titles in the Technical Track. Here they are, along with how many of each type of accomplishment they required:
|Senior Member||2 Significants and 2 Importants|
|Master Member||6 Significants|
When adding accomplishments, three Importants could accumulate to equal one Significant. This way an employee who did not have 6 Significants could become a Master Member with, for example, 3 Significants and 9 Importants.
A Technical Track Review Panel (TTRP) composed of scores of high-level employees used to spend thousands of man-hours per year reviewing applications, plus thousands more hours were spent by candidates writing their applications. How was the result of all this effort used? It was merely one of many factors considered in determining people's promotability. It was supposed to give people goals to accomplish, but remember that we're talking about government employees - people who, if they were inclined to pursue goals, would be working in the private sector.
I think that the Technical Track could have been much more useful if it had been used in order to rank all federal employees on a new scale, and if employees had been paid according to their ranking. I propose the following new types of accomplishments: Lousy, Stupid, Average, Good, Great, Terrific, Stupendous and Fantastic. Here is one example of each:
Lousy - Accidentally deleted all his files. The only reason he didn't delete any system files is that his office mates were smart enough not to give him the superuser password.
Stupid - Tripped over his own shoelace and took three months of workman's compensation. Spent at least an hour per day on smoke breaks during which he complained venomously about being underpaid.
Average - Wrote a computer program with lots of bugs in it. After numerous user complaints, he fixed half of them and put himself in for a cash award. When he didn't get it, he refused to fix the remaining bugs.
Good - Committed only 2 security violations in an entire year. Read most of his E-mail. Managed to take lunch to his office without spilling.
Great - Put a purchase request together in only 3 weeks.
Terrific - Took credit for someone else's work and got a cash award for it before they found out.
Stupendous - Took the following classes: Tupperware Management, Basket Weaving, and Fungi of Brazil.
Fantastic - Organized several meetings between dozens of key government and commercial executives over the course of two years in order to determine the requirements for a very large contract. Recorded all meeting minutes on a laptop computer. Scheduled a meeting to hand the meeting notes over to the Contracting Office. Then misplaced the laptop.
I propose the following new Technical Track ranks and requirements:
|Worthless||1 Lousy and 2 Stupids|
|Expendable||1 Stupid and 1 Average|
|Competent||3 Averages and 2 Goods (except on Thursdays, only 1 Good needed)|
|Intelligent||3 Greats (4 on even-numbered Mondays)|
|Genius||2 Terrifics and 1 Stupendous|
|Emeritus||5 Fantastics (waived if you sleep with 3 or more TTRP members)|
Additionally, some accomplishments would accumulate:
2 Stupids = 1 Average
3 Averages = 1 Good
3 Goods + 2 Averages = 1 Great
2 Greats + $300 = 1 Terrific
4 Terrifics + a hand job = 1 Stupendous
3 Stupendous + 2 Terrifics + bending over for the entire TTRP = 1 Fantastic
You would not believe the number of different committees and "teams" that exist at NSA. There's the Social Committee, the Process Management Team, the Navy Day Ball Committee, and even the Committee for Teaming, to name but a few. Really. I'm not making these up. I couldn't make these up - I'm not that creative. There are a lot of government folks who fabricate committees or join existing ones in order to hide the fact that they do not work. In any other country these people would be lined up against a wall and shot, but in the Land of Milk and Honey they are paid for their non-efforts. Even committees and teams whose efforts are work-related are often nonproductive, as people sit around at meetings and expound abstract concepts such as "ensuring quality" while they produce nothing and then go back to their desks and don't apply any of their newly gained knowledge to their job efforts. I say that you don't need a "quality team" or an "action committee" if everyone does their job. Quality and action should be givens; special teams should not have to be created in order to produce or preserve them.
Many meetings are held even in the absence of a committee or a team. Most offices have periodic mandatory meetings, which are such a waste that they defy words. There are several types of people at these meetings, as illustrated by the following list.
The Suggestion Maker - This person can always be counted on to make at least one stupid suggestion that everyone in the room knows couldn't possibly work, even the person who suggested it. He does this, of course, in order to make it look as though he's working or he knows what's going on. Then, when his ideas get rejected for the absurdities that they are, he can claim, "Well, I tried!"
The Quiet Idiot - This person literally doesn't make a sound during the entire meeting. He just sits there, looking like he's taking intelligent notes but actually doodling or making his shopping list. Often he will doze off, still with pen in hand and eyes half open, so no one can tell. He has absolutely no idea what is going on, and he knows that if he were to open his mouth he would be revealed as the worthless drone that he is.
The Bored, Irritated Engineer - The only person of any value. He knows how useless meetings are, so he pays no attention to what other people are saying and thinks about the work he was doing when he was pulled away from his desk. He doesn't express his feelings for fear of being fired or held back from promotion. He often fantasizes about standing up, pulling out a machine gun, and spraying the room.
The Pompous Leader - This shallow suit throws a bunch of expressions and clichés around in an attempt to appear intelligent, knowledgeable and essential. For example, he'll tell his underlings to be "proactive" or that they must "shift to a new paradigm". Even the Quiet Idiot thinks, "Jeez, this guy's a moron!"
Around the middle of 2001, the Intelligence Directorate Chief of Staff thought he'd do something about all the time wasted in meetings. He sent a message to the work force that started out as follows:
One area that we need to focus on is the amount of time our Leadership Team spends in meetings. In particular, it is not unusual for the Intelligence Director to spend 10-12 hours of her workday in back-to-back meetings. In order to maximize the time our Leadership Team spends focusing on strategic issues, we need to adjust the ethos within the Directorate in regards to meetings. For example, a 45-minute information or decision meeting can often be replaced by a short package of information that can be read in 10 minutes.
Sound good? Sure does. I had been saying for 17 years that most meetings were unnecessary, and finally someone in power seemed to agree with me. Certainly anything that applied to the Leadership Team would also be applicable to the rest of the agency, so I was delighted until I read the rest of the message:
Starting today, all personnel who believe they need to schedule a meeting with the Intelligence Director will be required to complete a "Meeting/Briefing Request Form". Each request will need to be approved by your organization's Deputy Director or the Intelligence Directorate Chief of Staff. If your request for a meeting is approved, you will be required to provide a read-ahead package 3-5 days prior to your meeting, depending on the type of meeting or briefing you've requested.
So the aim was not to institute an agency-wide policy of reducing the time wasted in meetings; it was merely to free up some of the Intelligence Director's time. Furthermore, a new form was fabricated that needed to be filled out by one person and approved by another, and an extra set of documents had to be written prior to each meeting. Any time saved in the Intelligence Director's schedule would be far outweighed by the time added to the schedules of people requesting to meet with her. Net savings: zero.
Millions of dollars are spent every year on "offsites", where high-ranking government officials are sent to a remote location for a few days or weeks to discuss work-related matters, sleep in hotel rooms and eat at restaurants. I once asked a certain government executive why they don't just meet in a conference room for eight hours a day instead of separating themselves from their families for days on end. He said, "Because a conference room doesn't have a swimming pool."
NSA (motto: "Donuts and coffee since 1952") has recognition months and celebrations for various ethnic groups, as well as women. The purpose is to foster good relations between people of different backgrounds so that all employees will get along and work together in harmony, and I applaud this, but tens of thousands of man-hours are spent on these efforts. Hundreds of people are designing posters; developing, advertising and attending presentations; and reading about the festivities - all at taxpayers' expense. Furthermore, only selected ethnic groups (Hispanic, Native American, Black and Asian/Pacific) are celebrated. There is nothing for Eskimos, Greeks, Arabs, Israelis, the French* or the Irish. Is it politically correct to be so discriminating, to ignore most ethnic groups? Every year there is a "Blacks in Government" conference during which many people get to schmooze during their "work" time. I don't recall a "Filipinos in Government" conference. Or a "Poles in Government" conference. How about "Whites in Government"? I bet that would evoke a lot of complaints and perhaps even lawsuits.
* The French donít deserve a recognition month. After all weíve done for them, those ingrates treat us like dirt. They have even accused the United States of spying of them! This from a country whose military strategy in the event of war is to wait for the U.S. to rescue them. De Gaulle of those people!
In June 2000, NSA actually had a presentation recognizing white men. A few weeks prior, the entire work force received the following advertisement from the EEO Office in their electronic mailbox:
To whom it may concern:
We celebrate a different demographic group about every other month, because we feel that people from all walks of life deserve special recognition regardless of the amount of work they perform, and because we at the EEO Office have nothing better to do. Upon looking at our calender, we noticed - for the first time in 15 years - that the month of June has no special interest group associated with it. Therefore, we are proud to present "White Men in America ... A Historical Perspective" on June 12, from 0900-1100 in the auditorium. In past years we have spent countless hours and dollars annoying and boring you with presentations about the changing roles for women and minorities in America, while implying that white men are just a bunch of rich, oppressive, racist child molesters. We have invited Dr. Frank Furter, a white man who is neither oppressive nor racist, to give a speech on white men's contributions and failures as well as their future in the 21st century. His popular book White Like Me will be on sale after his speech. We hope you can tear yourselves away from your crossword puzzles in order to attend this presentation.
How could the EEO Office be "proud to present" this? It is white men who brought black people over here as slaves and who oppressed women and minorities for many years, thus necessitating recognition months for these special interest groups in the first place. White men brought us the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Cold War, excessive logging and nuclear testing. I didn't attend Dr. Furter's presentation, but I wonder if he apologized for all the violence, injustice, bigotry and greed that white men have been guilty of, and all the religious, political and economic mayhem they have caused. I still cannot believe that any government agency had the audacity to hold such a spectacle. I also cannot believe that Dr. Furter's book is getting marketed professionally while I have to print my books at home because no publisher will touch them.
Here's an interesting little occurrence that probably didn't make it into any newspaper. NSA used to have a monthly publication called the NSA Newsletter that contained news about various goings-on, plus some other things such as a word search puzzle. Well, the word search puzzle in the February 1998 issue, which celebrated Black History Month, contained the phrase "U B REAL TRASH" (apparently a negative black expression), which was not in the list of words to search for. Many NSA employees were shocked, embarrassed or offended to find out about this superfluous phrase, and the EEO Director investigated. She concluded that the phrase was an "unfortunate accident". That is, she told the entire work force - with a straight face - that the phrase occurred purely by chance in the extraneous letters. Oh really? Let's see, the chance of that phrase occurring in any eleven random letters is one in 26 to the 11th power, or one in 3,670,344,486,987,776. You could win the lottery 500 million times before you would stumble upon that phrase accidentally. Why did the EEO Director write the occurrence off as mere happenstance? It turns out that the folks who created the puzzle were black. I wonder if the EEO Director would have judged the incident an "accident" if the authors had been white. Whatever the case, this little scandal really gave the EEO Office a black eye (pun intended).
NSA used to hold an annual event called "Family Day" during which employees could bring family members into the facilities to see where their breadwinner worked. The event was advertised to all employees by sending them the following E-mail message:
Didja ever wanna bring your spouse/mistress/offspring into work and show them your cubicle? Well, September 23 is NSA Family Day. Bring your loved ones in so they can observe your coworkers surfing the Web with a donut in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. And that's not all. Take them to other offices so they can listen in on employees' vital phone calls to movie theaters, garage mechanics and old friends. Invite them to eat lunch at the cafeteria so they can find out why our employees pray after they eat. Walk them around the building so they can watch members of both the civilian "work" force and the military smoke tobacco products while complaining that they don't get paid enough. Remember to register your family members in advance so they will be allowed to enter the building - otherwise we will have to shoot them.
Around 1990 or so, someone in the private sector came up with a brilliant scheme: he concocted a bunch of managerial nonsense and then reaped lots of money by fooling both corporate and government executives into believing it. His fabrication was called Total Quality Management (TQM). Its popularity lasted about as long as the Macarena, but that was all the time it took for this person to become rich. The government got suckered into this bullshit and wasted countless man-hours on meetings and training. Its resounding failure was accurately predicted by yours truly from the first day I heard about it, but of course no one would listen to me. Managers ate donuts and drank coffee in TQM meetings while low-ranking people did actual work and got paid less for it. I was able to get hold of the minutes from one of the meetings, and I have reproduced them here for your benefit.
TQM Committee meeting, Tuesday February 5, 1991 1) Bob got some coffee. 2) Jack complained that the overhead lights caused glare on his screen. He was pissed. 3) Mary complimented Angie on her dress. 4) Frank said he was having trouble with his computer and that he couldn't get it up in the morning. Angie said she'd help him. 5) Bill didn't show up. 6) Neither did Jane. 7) There was a reorganization of responsibilities: Jane complimented Jack on his dress, Bob didn't show up, Angie complained about glare on her screen, and Ned said he'd help Frank get it up. 8) Mary suggested that we stop wasting taxpayers' money and that we actually do something. 9) Mary was thrown off the committee. 10) John made a really neat paper airplane. 11) Jim and Abdul got into an argument over whose religion is correct. 12) Mary and Bob made out in the corner. 13) Abdul stabbed Jim. 14) Jack let one go that cleared the room.
Uncle Sam spends like a tycoon's mistress at Bloomingdale's. Whether it's bribes to other countries to keep them from turning Communist or large payments for fraudulent Medicare claims, our taxes are spent for all sorts of things, no matter how unnecessary or wasteful we think they are. And yet this same government that loses literally billions of dollars every year in unaccounted-for property and unpaid loans will fine and/or imprison you if you cheat on your taxes.
In 1985, NSA decided to have "standard" computers for its operations. This was - and still is - a ridiculous idea since technology is always advancing and no computer can remain the standard for very long. However, the big wigs' minds were made up and they didn't want to be confused with facts. Which system did they choose as the one in which to entrust NSA's ever-so-important operations? The AT&T 3B series computer. In case you're not familiar with this particular piece of machinery, I'll describe it to you. Picture a cubic metal box about three-quarters the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, and an attached tape drive that's even bigger. Consider the speed at which your little home computer operates, and divide that by ten. Imagine that it crashes twice a day. Now imagine paying $89,000 for this monstrosity. "That's absurd!" I hear you cry. "Only someone with severe mental retardation would pay that much for such a huge, slow and unreliable piece of equipment." Well, that's exactly what the pinheads at NSA did. They bought thousands of these contraptions plus training and support at a total cost of ... well, I'm not allowed to tell you how much. Why did they squander their resources on a phone company product instead of something from IBM or Sun which would have been much more cost-effective? Personally, I think it was the government's way of compensating Ma Bell for having broken up her monopoly. Anyway, these "standard" computers lasted for just a few years before being phased out by smaller, faster, cheaper and more reliable desktop systems.
Other federal agencies have experienced similar fiascoes, and once again I cannot tell you about them because I donít feel like being arrested. Suffice it to say that you can rest easy knowing that your tax money is being wasted in the old familiar ways you have become accustomed to, instead of being thrown at non-patriotic endeavors such as developing alternatives to foreign oil.
The trend since the early 1990s has been to reduce the size of government. This is considered by many to be a good thing, since the implication is smaller expenses. The workload has not diminished, however, so reducing the number of employees would mean, in theory, that each government person would do more work. If you think that'll ever happen, then I'd be willing to bet that you work at a fast food restaurant. What has actually happened is that much of the work has been "outsourced" to private industry, so as the number of people on the federal payroll has diminished, the number of contractors getting paid to do the work has increased. In fact, there are now three federally-paid contractor personnel for each civil servant. Companies bill the government at twice the rate that government employees get paid (which is only right since contractors typically perform twice as much work as their federal counterparts), so there has been no savings at all. However, politicians use outsourcing to their advantage by focusing only on the smaller number of federal employees. A good example was Al Gore during the Clinton administration ("I helped reduce the size of government, just as surely as I helped invent the Internet!").
The government, like many large corporations, sends employees to various conferences. I have gone to several computer-related conferences, and I can tell you from experience that they are a complete waste of money. Salespeople hype their products while attendees learn absolutely nothing that will help them do their jobs better. When an attendee returns to his office, he might have a few interesting stories to tell but he is no more productive and his employer has wasted several hundred dollars while losing dozens of man-hours of work. But you know, I don't care; if the government wants to put me up in a hotel, buy my meals and pay my way into a conference so that I can pick up some free T-shirts and visit a city I've never been to, I'm not gonna complain. All I do is show my receipts when I get back and I get reimbursed. Except when there is some stupid rule in place that ends up screwing me. I attended a UNIFORUM conference in 1989 where the admission fee was $495, but if you joined the UNIFORUM organization for $50, the fee was only $395 (for $445 total, a $50 savings overall). So I joined, not that I cared to be a member, but because I thought I'd save the government fifty bucks. When I got back, they wouldn't reimburse the $50 because there was a rule stating that organizational membership fees were not reimbursable. I explained that my act saved money and that surely reimbursement was justifiable, but they denied my request. So then I explained that if I hadn't joined, I would have paid $495 for the conference, so that's the amount I should get back. They denied that too, saying that all I paid to enter was $395, so that was all they would reimburse me. This kind of ignorant, blind adherence to rules without regard to results is very common among uncreative, minimally-skilled government drones. The result was that I ended up paying $50 of my own money to save the government $100.
I eventually got even. In 1997 I attended a conference near my mom's house. At the time, travelers got a "per diem" reimbursement based on what city they were in and did not have to show any receipts for meals and lodging. So I stayed with my mom and pocketed about $700 in per diem payments.
That conference, called "Networks Expo" and held in Boston Massachusetts, was sort of interesting, so I'll tell you about my trip. I originally considered flying to Boston on US Scare and staying at the Combat Zone Motel (slogan: "If you survive two nights, the third night is free!"). Instead, I decided to drive my "cah" to my mom's house, "pahk" it there, and ride the subway into town every day. Boston calls their mass transit system the "T" (for "trash" I guess). The tunnels smelled just like I had remembered them from my youth: a mixture of body odor and rotting corpses. In fact, the Boston subway is very much like the New York subway, except that in New York they at least make an attempt to remove the stabbing victims.
The conference was held at the Hynes Convention Center (named after John G. Hynes, who, during Paul Revere's famous ride, was quoted as saying, "Shut up, you stupid drunk! People are trying to sleep!"). It had a big sign over the entrance that said: "Drug free since 1995". Inside, hundreds of nerds, dweebs and geeks stood in line or milled around. There were also people there for Networks Expo. It was interesting to hear vendors talking with a Boston accent ("Hey, look at my %#$& softweah!"). They pushed lots of hahdware and computa pahts. They touted all sorts of products for the Innanet. Many exhibitors really prostituted themselves in order to get people to listen to them: they gave away T-shirts, yo-yos, key rings and pens, performed skits and played music. Several of them used pretty women in order to entice me (often successfully) to look at their wares (uh, software, that is). Then, when I'd ask these women a technical question, they'd give a vacant, chromosomally-deficient smile and tell me to talk to one of the marketing reps.
I attended several seminars, most of which were useless. The one presentation that I really wanted to see was cancelled because the scheduled speaker had been in an auto accident on the way to the conference. He was probably run off the road for using his turn signal.
The convention center is connected to a mall and to the Prudential Building. I went to the Skywalk on the 50th floor. Points of interest were written on the windows so you knew what you were looking at. I saw the Public Gahden, Boston Public Liberry, Chahles Riva (with Hahvid on the otha side), Ahnold Ahboretum, Fenway Pahk, and Hank's Gun Shop & Spirits. They even had Maine painted on one window, as though we were actually able to see Bah Hahba. In the Back Bay there were hundreds of red brick buildings with pistachio trim (what gay exterior decorator designed these gems?). The Skywalk also had displays with lots of trivia. For instance, Boston is home to musical groups such as The Cars, Aerosmith, Boston, J. Geils Band and Donna Summer. Unfortunately, Boston is also responsible for New Kids on the Block. The mall had all sorts of little stands cluttering up the hallways, including one that had the audacity to call itself Pigglia Wigglia. There's got to be a copyright infringement there. In the eatery there was a place called Flamers that sold - what else? - hot dogs. I had a little trouble finding my way back to the subway the first day. I asked someone on the street, "How do I get underground?" She answered, "Drop dead."
I had been to an even bigger conference a few months earlier when I traveled with two coworkers to New York City for "Internet Expo 1996". After a surprisingly nonfatal ride aboard Slamtrak (motto: "Leave the crashing to us"), seriously discussing world events (e.g. the upcoming Beavis and Butthead movie) and drinking exotic microbrews (Schitz, Pudweiser), we arrived in the Big Apple ("The city that never bathes"). Achmed, our courteous cabbie whose last name contained five consonants in a row, brought us to the Roach Hotel ("Senators: Check out our hourly rates!"). At this point, for security reasons, my two companions and I became Guido the Guillotine, Vinnie the Viper, and Nino the Knife, respectively. Vinnie wisely suggested that we leave the TV and a light on in each of our hotel rooms in order to prevent ransacking by burglars and software vendors.
The conference was a veritable carnival of hundreds - maybe thousands - of vendors and several thousand attendees who ranged from important suit-wearing types to peon slobs like me. There were lots of seminars which were absolutely useless because some were nothing more than shameless plugs of the speakers' products and the rest were not very informative. As with other conferences, the exhibitionists -- I mean, exhibitors -- used all sorts of paraphernalia (T-shirts, pens, buttons, hats, umbrellas, software CDs and disks, candy, popcorn, tote bags, bottled water, rented women) in order to attract potential customers. Some vendors put on skits or had someone doing magic tricks. One company even gave away beer, which is a good marketing tactic ("Thatch pretty impreshive shoftware. I'll take three of 'em!").
Prices around town varied. A burger was $8 ($12 with tax), but some of the off-Broadway shows were rather cheap, for example, only 25 cents to see Live Nudes at Peep World. The acting was okay, but the plot was thin. They had self-service booths for a real hands-on experience. There were some pretty expensive shows, too. They wanted $50 to see Something Funny Happened on the Way to the OJ Trial. They were so desperate for business that they put signs out front saying things like, "A great show! Really!"
City life was interesting. There were cops on almost every street corner. The people spoke every language known to Man (except English). There was even a Croatian church with a statue of Jesus that, according to legend, once bled (probably because it got shot). There were occasional joggers (breathing in pollution while exercising seemed counterproductive to us). We went to Saks 5th Avenue to laugh at the prices ($168 for a tote bag!) and relieve ourselves. We saw people skating at Rockefeller Plaza and got accosted by scalpers at Madison Square Garden. We also visited some of the local, shall we say, "adult" shops and got loads of laughs from some of the movie titles (e.g. Samurai Frog Proctologist). Every adult shop had people sitting on ladders, watching the customers in order to prevent theft. You know that they must often think deep thoughts while on duty ("What horrible crime did I commit in a past life that caused Karmic Law to put me here?").
It was Christmas time, and the songs sung in the street were creatively adapted for NYC: "I'm Dreaming of a Demographically Diverse Christmas", "It's Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Garbage", "Violent Night", and "John Gotti is Coming to Town". Apparently the crime is so bad in some areas that the city has the world's first drive-thru funeral parlor.
We went to the Empire State Building and saw a short movie there where it looks like you're flying in a plane, riding dangerously on a motorcycle, and swimming under water. The seats moved in such a way that, when combined with what you see on the screen, makes you throw up. After Hurl-o-Rama we went up to the 86th floor to look out over the city. We could see every building and tire fire for 20 miles in each direction. It looked like a futuristic movie. We didn't linger too long, as the temperature, including the wind chill factor, was approximately 18 degrees Kelvin. Then we went up to the 102nd floor to watch people commit suicide.
Our hotel couldn't totally isolate us from New York life. The blood stains on our sheets were a constant reminder of which city we were in. The windows were far from soundproof, and we learned that it is true that the city never sleeps. Every night we were lulled to sleep by horns, sirens and gunshots. It was like a symphony ("Grand Theft in D Minor").
|Possible titles for Monica Lewinsky's book|
|1. I Suck at My Job|
|2. How I Blew it in Washington|
|3. The Congressional Study on White House Intern Positions|
|4. She's Chief of My Staff!|
|5. How to Beat Off the Government|
|6. Going Down and Moving Up|
|7. Members of the Presidential Cabinet|
|8. Me and My Big Mouth|
When you want to communicate with people regarding official business, you usually send a memo (short for memorandum). This is a message that's delivered via paper or E-mail. Non-work-related messages such as jokes are not considered memos, although they can be made to appear work-related by making sure that they contain at least three occurrences of the word "infrastructure".
The government is pretty good about communicating with its employees. Whenever there is an upcoming event or a policy change, everyone is informed with a memo. A lot of the events promoted in these memos aren't work-related but they're meant to improve employees' lives. For instance, there are occasionally seminars on financial planning, how to deal with divorce, and caring for an elderly parent. I remember in 1996 there was even a life-planning seminar for single people. Not only that, it lasted all day. (Isn't it nice to know how the government spends your tax money?) I didn't go to it, but I thought of a few topics that could have been helpful additions:
Another nice thing the government (or at least NSA) does is field questions from the work force and disseminate the answers for all to read. For example:
QUESTION: In preparation for NSA Family Day, our office was required to remove any maps and documents that displayed or suggested our interest in specific countries, regions or languages. Does this mean that leaving those maps and documents out at night is a security violation?
ANSWER: As with most of NSA's neurotic employees, your assumptions - as well as those of your management - are based more on paranoia than on realistic concerns. The people who will be visiting on Family Day are almost all products of Maryland's public schools. These morons wouldn't know a map of Mozambique from one of Cape Cod. And as far as leaving things out at night is concerned, are you afraid that someone is going to report you to the ambassador from Boinkadesh just because that's where you've got pins stuck in the map? But seriously, if the thought of leaving your map of inner Mongolia up on the wall leaves you in a cold sweat at night, glue a Beastie Boys poster to the back of the thing and turn it over when you leave for the day.
QUESTION: What is NSA's policy regarding the use of its electronic mail system for sending personal messages?
ANSWER: The fact that you would even ask such a stupid question clearly indicates that you already misuse NSA's resources. You just want us to say that it's okay, don't you? You want us to condone all the E-mail messages you send and receive regarding your softball team, your kids, jokes and social events. Nothing we say will make you stop doing this. If we tell you it's wrong (which it is), you'll just be secretive about it. It is people like you who give government employees a bad name. You make us sick.
QUESTION: When smoking was banned from NSA buildings, smoking used to be permitted just outside entranceways. Then "NO SMOKING" signs were put up in these areas, telling us to go to a designated smoking area many yards away. This is particularly troublesome on very hot or cold days. Why are we smokers being treated this way?
ANSWER: First of all, if smokers spent as much time working as they did on smoke breaks, NSA could function on half its current staff. You probably stand outside and smoke for two or three hours a day in addition to taking two or three hours for lunch, bathroom and Credit Union breaks, don't you? Add to that your three hours reading online newsgroups and the newspaper, and it becomes evident just what a useless piece of poop you are. For another matter, your second-hand smoke presents a health hazard to employees entering and exiting the buildings. No one wants to breathe in your toxic waste products - or even see your sorry ass - every time they go in or out. If you had the least bit of consideration for others you would have voluntarily smoked away from the doors way before the signs went up. You exemplify the unabated selfishness that plagues the world today. And lastly, you must have no regard for your own health if you continue to smoke despite all the conclusive medical literature and smoking cessation programs that are available. Your hedonistic grabbing of momentary pleasure is what has made you the pathetic, fat, sagging piece of human debris that you are. You will eventually die a slow, lingering, painful death, and when you do the rest of us will dance gleefully around your grave.
The CIA sent a man to Russia. He was supposed to make contact with a spy named Goldberg. The password was "The sun is shining." But when he got to the apartment house where Goldberg lived, the list of names at the entrance had two Goldbergs. He decided to try the one on the second floor. He knocked on the door, and to the man who opened the door he said, "The sun is shining." The man replied, "Oh, you want Goldberg the spy - he's one flight up."
Some federal employees are in capacities where they have access to certain information that could hurt our nation if our adversaries ever got hold of it. People in these positions require a security clearance. A clearance means that you can theoretically be trusted to keep your mouth shut. There was a time when only men could get clearances. (This chauvinism had some merit, as many women can't even keep the fact that they had surgery on a very private body part a secret.) Now, with women's liberation and equal rights and other revolutionary ideas that go directly against the Bible, many women are cleared to handle highly sensitive information such as which countries we hate.
There are three security levels. They are, in descending order: Top Secret, Secret and Confidential. Information can be classified at any of these levels; the more damage that could be caused by the wrong people learning it, the higher it is classified. Information that cannot damage us is simply labeled Unclassified. There is also a classification called For Official Use Only (abbreviated FOUO), but it is not a security classification. FOUO information is merely Unclassified information that is exempt from mandatory release under the Freedom of Information Act. That is, it is not sensitive enough to cause us damage, so revealing it is not considered a crime. I think FOUO is a stupid label. Stuff should either be Top Secret, Secret, Confidential or Unclassified.
There are three clearance levels to match the three security levels. Let's look at each briefly.
Top Secret - Only people who have gone through the strictest background investigation and questioning can attain this level. They have to demonstrate with a great degree of assurance that they are not likely to leak the most highly sensitive information such as our planned attack on Fra-- whoops! Almost let that one out!
Secret - This level is for people who are fairly good at keeping secrets but can be forced to tell everything they know with veiled threats. For example, "You don't want to tell me anything? Fine. Um, you live at 123 Main Street, don't you?"
Confidential - This is the lowest clearance level. People with higher clearances laugh at those who are at the Confidential level, because the most sensitive information they are entrusted to handle is who the President is sleeping with, and we all know how private that information is kept. People cleared at the Confidential level are routinely persuaded to spill the beans with cash and sex.
When you have a clearance, you are not allowed to discuss classified information with anyone who does not have a high enough clearance to know it. For example, someone with a Top Secret clearance can discuss Top Secret information only with others who are cleared at the Top Secret level; while someone with a Confidential clearance can discuss anything he knows with anyone at any of the three clearance levels (or the hooker who is giving him a Lewinsky).
Unfortunately an occasional trusted person will give unfriendly nations some of our classified information, often for nothing more than personal gain. These people can continue their traitorous activities for many years before they are caught; some are never caught. You might have read about some of these traitors in the newspaper. Does the name Jonathan Pollard ring a bell? Earl Pitts? How about Aldridge "Rick" Ames? (No, Rick Ames is not the guy who sang "Superfreak").
The compromise of classified information can be very costly. A man by the name of Ronald Pelton ruined our plan to intercept Russian communications by telling them that we had planted a listening device under their ocean-bottom cable and were laying our own cable underneath the ocean floor in order to transmit what the device picked up to an intelligence station. When the Russians found the device, the U.S. might have been able to deny any involvement - after all, anyone could have planted it - but unfortunately our intelligence community had the brilliance to stamp the device with "PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES".
Maggots who commit espionage often give the appearance of living normal lives, so they escape suspicion. One case that comes to mind is Robert Philip Hanssen, an FBI agent who lived in a nice suburb and went to church every Sunday with his wife. He was arrested in February 2001 for selling secrets to the Russians. For more than a decade and a half he handed over classified documents in exchange for cash and diamonds, divulging numerous FBI counterintelligence techniques and giving the names of two double agents who were subsequently caught, tried and executed in Moscow. People like Hanssen should be publicly tortured to death, along with murderers and rude salespeople.
The threat of disclosure of sensitive information is not limited to the occasional traitor. Computer users all over the world, including within our borders, have stolen protected information by hacking government Web sites. The June 27, 2001 Wall Street Journal reported that over a three-year period from 1998-2001, Russian hackers quietly downloaded millions of pages of sensitive data, which was, according to the Air Intelligence Agency, equivalent to a stack of printed copier paper three times the height of the Washington Monument. It is very unsettling to learn that this much information was disclosed, and even more disturbing to have our government compare its magnitude to a 900-foot phallus.
By the way, I don't know why the Russians ever felt the need to steal any of our technology. After all, they're way smarter than we are. For example, in the early years of the Space Program, when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were engaged in the race for space, both sides had to deal with the issue of weightlessness. One problem was that pens do not write in a weightless environment because there is no gravity to push the ink into the tip. The U.S. spent three million dollars developing a spring-loaded ballpoint pen that works without gravity. The Russians used a pencil.
I like having a job that requires a clearance, because this absolves me of discussing my job at parties. I can't understand why people talk about their work when they're at a social event. Don't they already spend 40 or more hours every week focusing on their vocations? Don't they have anything else in their lives that's interesting enough to talk about? Whether I'm hanging out with my friends or meeting new people, my job is near the bottom of the list of things I want to discuss, just above nail fungus and marriage.
The government generates literally tons of paper waste every day. About 15 percent has classified information on it, and the rest is newspapers, magazines, old résumés, Super Bowl betting grids, etc. Throwing all this paper in trashcans would leave the possibility of the classified information being retrieved and read by foreign spies or the media. How does the government dispose of trash that has classified information on it? That's an excellent question, and I'm glad you asked it. The paper is mixed with water and "pulped" into a wet, gooey soup that gets pressed into cardboard-like bales. The processed material, which contains no discernible characters or pictures, is sold to paper companies that turn it into pizza boxes and toilet paper. Just think: the next time you take a dump, you might be wiping your ass with classified material! Pulping is a much better way to dispose of classified waste than the old method, which was to have cleared employees eat it.
A top secret government agency was interviewing people for an undercover assignment. They had narrowed it to three men, and decided to test these remaining applicants. The first man was brought into the room and was told, "In order to test your loyalty to your country, we have kidnapped your wife and tied her to a chair in the next room. We want you to take this gun, go into the other room and kill her." The man said, "I can't. I love her too much." And with that, he left the room. The next man was brought into the room and was given the same proposition. He gave the same answer. After he left, the third man was brought in and told the same thing. This man took the gun, entered the other room and closed the door. After a slight pause, the interviewers heard a gunshot. After another slight pause, they heard two more gunshots, the sound of a scuffle, and then silence. A moment later the man re-entered the room with his hair tossed and out of breath. "What happened?" they inquired. "Well," said the man, "some bonehead put blanks in that gun. I had to strangle her, and she didn't go easy!"
By now you're probably thinking, "How can I get a government job? I want to eat donuts, drink coffee, send personal E-mail messages, surf the Web, gossip, make personal phone calls, and get paid for it. How do I get a piece of the action?"
Well, first you have to find a job opening. Government jobs are advertised just like jobs in the private sector. Open up any major newspaper and you're likely to see an ad that looks something like this:
The No Such Agency has nothing to do with communications, security or intelligence (especially intelligence). We do not employ engineers, computer scientists, linguists, analysts or mathematicians. We have no use for anyone who wants to work on devices that eavesdrop on telephone calls. We do not work on speech recognition systems that automatically evaluate what was not recorded by the electronic equipment that our engineers never built in the first place. We haven't the slightest interest in mathematics. Hell, we can't even add up our own budget (of course, neither can Congress). NSA salaries ain't worth a hill of beans. Why don't you find a nice job in private industry? IBM is a much better place to work, really. There are no career opportunities whatsoever at our desolate location in Antarctica. We are not hiring. Don't ask. Leave us alone. Go away.
Next you fill out an application. For example:
Application for Employment Personal information Full name: Benjamin Reginald Dover Address: You're the government. Figure it out. Number to call in case of emergency: 911 Position you are applying for: Anything that doesn't involve work. Employment history Current position: Sitting. Years at current job: Job? Please provide three people that can verify your identity: Any three IRS employees - they seem to find
me every year no matter how often I change my
name or how many times I move. Sign here: Gemini. Date: Not anymore - I'm married. Do not write below this line __________________________________________________ Okay, but why?
A favorable budget does not guarantee you federal employment. Believe it or not, the government does have hiring standards (they're low, but they're standards nonetheless). If you have no skills or education or job experience, then you'd better be some government executive's love slave or else you won't have a prayer of being hired. In fact, the personnel office might, because they have nothing better to do, write you a less-than-sympathetic rejection letter like this one:
I just got through reading your Application for Employment, and I must say that I haven't had such a good laugh since Howard Stern campaigned for president. I see that for the past three years you have been working as a cashier at McDonald's - a place where you don't even have to have all of your limbs to become a manager. Your inability to rise above a job where you push buttons that have pictures of the food rather than numbers is easily explained by the fact that you failed to graduate from a public high school. Nevertheless, you might be smarter than a lot of us government people, but I guess we'll never know, will we? You know, there's a guy sitting next to me who gets paid more than $47,000 a year to fill coffee pots. There's a woman on the other side of my cubicle who hasn't done a damned thing in eight years; all she does is paint her nails and talk on the phone, and her salary is about $51,000. Me, I'm probably as useless as they are. I couldn't lead a pack of hungry wolves to meat, and yet here I sit, getting paid $64,000 a year to deny people like you a chance to work here.
Sorry to pick on you, but this is the only way I can feel good about myself.
P.S. Why don't you apply at the Post Office? You'll have to do it in person though, because postal employees can't read.
Let's say for the sake of argument that the government is hiring and you have an IQ that exceeds your shoe size. This makes you a potential hiring candidate. A federal employee reads your job application - which has been on file since the Carter administration - and sends you a letter asking you to come in for an interview. The interview is an absurd part of the hiring process because everything they need to know about you (name, address, work experience, etc) is already written on your application. When you come in, all they do is screen you on the basis of physical beauty and ethnicity. In order to disguise what they're doing, they ask you questions that they already know the answers to. For example:
|Interviewer:||"What's your name?"|
|You:||"Isn't it there on the application?"|
|Interviewer:||"So it is! I have to ask you that question for positive identification purposes. Due to the sensitive nature of the No Such Agency's business, we have to be absolutely sure of who you are, Mr. Smith."|
It is immoral and probably illegal to hire people on the basis of physical beauty, but let's face it: what would you do if you had a choice between hiring either a 300-pound, bearded, tattooed Skinhead or a lovely 23-year-old blonde with big hooters? You would probably choose the latter. And there'd be two big benefits from this decision: 1) you'd be relieved at having had the opportunity to view the applicants and select the one you'd much rather have around, and 2) the entire universe would laud you for hiring a woman.
Incidentally, you cannot be discriminated against for unchangeable personal characteristics such as skin color, gender or stupidity. Even morons who have trouble operating a mechanical pencil must be equally considered for employment. This mirrors the public's give-'em-a-chance sentiment toward the mentally impaired, which is evidenced by the last eleven presidential elections.
Anti-discrimination laws also protect people with physical disabilities. In fact, not only are they routinely hired, but the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended to incorporate new electronic accessibility standards that take into account people with disabilities. Specifically, Section 508 requires that federal information technology be made accessible to employees with disabilities unless doing so would impose an undue burden on government resources. I like that little caveat at the end. I can see employees using it to worm their way out of the Section 508 requirements:
|Underling:||"This software is ready for release."|
|Boss:||"Have you made it accessible to the visually impaired?"|
|Underling:||"No. Doing that would impose an undue burden."|
|Underling:||"I would have to enlarge the font."|
In July 2001, the NSA work force was notified via E-mail that, effectively immediately, the Section 508 requirements were to be enforced. The message contained the following explanation for the short notice:
Normally, such changes are linked to the issuance of new solicitations, allowing for advanced planning and orderly transition. This change is abrupt, however, due to the lack of customary implementation guidance as well as its unexpected application to contracts awarded after 25 June 2001.
Let me translate that paragraph into laymen's terms:
As usual, we forgot to plan ahead because we were too busy eating donuts and downloading porn. So you, the average peon, will have to pay for our negligence. Have a nice day.
Now let's get back to your interview. Assuming that you impressed the interviewer with your quick wit and a fat bribe, your name will be put on a list of potential hiring candidates. Uncle Sam will then do a background investigation on you. This is understandable, as it is prudent to weed out criminals. It doesn't mean that the 37 joints you smoked in college automatically disqualify you as a candidate. However, certain crimes such as pederasty are inexcusable and might keep you from getting a job in the public sector (unless you run for political office). The kind of investigation depends on the type of job being applied for. A position involving access to classified information necessitates the interrogation of everyone you have ever met, including your 5th grade music teacher, in order to find out if you have ever said or done anything that shows the slightest lack of patriotism, obedience or conformity. A job with the Post Office, on the other hand, simply requires that you have killed fewer than seven people.
After months of waiting, you get a telegram offering you a position. Yippee! Hurray! What an accomplishment! You got a job with the United States Government - the same organization that hired Jocelyn Elders, the ex-Surgeon General who proposed that we teach school children how to masturbate. And don't forget, your only competition was a bunch of miscreants who couldn't make it in private industry. Okay, so you're no rocket scientist, but you don't have to be, either. The important thing is that you got your foot in the government door, and that entitles you to a salary, holidays, sick leave, annual leave, health insurance and a pension. Such a deal!
Unfortunately, getting a government job does not guarantee you a lifetime of slacking and bi-weekly paychecks. The government's economic state can cause an unpaid furlough, or, worse, termination of employment. Don't be surprised if one day you're sitting at your government desk playing a Sega game and you receive the following memo. (In order to help you decipher it, I italicized certain phrases and wrote their definitions below.)
During this period of economic adjustment, we have found that we need to downsize in order to meet budget limits. We are implementing a plan to selectively separate the nonessential portion of our work force. This event represents a career change opportunity. We will offer affected employees a chance to gain employment elsewhere so that this reduction in force will impact them as little as possible. If you are chosen for participation and feel that this was wrongly done, we don't doubt your word and we welcome your feedback. We are providing, for your convenience, a forum in which to air your views. Your input will then be processed by a special committee which will consider your situation and take appropriate action. This procedural safeguard is designed to ensure that all employees are equitably treated.
|air your views||vent your spleen|
|budget limits||arbitrary, meaningless dollar figures|
|career change opportunity||layoff|
|chosen for participation||recognized as expendable|
|consider your situation||laugh at you|
|downsize||fire a percentage of the employees|
|equitably treated||equally screwed|
|for your convenience||for our convenience|
|gain employment elsewhere||get the hell out of here|
|implementing||haphazardly throwing together|
|period of economic adjustment||recession|
|procedural safeguard||red tape|
|reduction in force||weeding out of deadwood|
|special committee||group of complete morons|
|take appropriate action||fire you anyway|
|we don't doubt your word||you're probably lying|
|Interviewer:||"What salary are you looking for?"|
|Interviewer:||"How about $145,000 with 12 weeks of paid vacation?"|
|Applicant:||"Are you kidding?"|
|Interviewer:||"Yeah, but you started it."|
After all the less-than-flattering things I've said about the federal government and its employees, you might wonder why I am still a public servant. Why do I insist on working in a place where a significant percentage of the people are lazy and/or stupid? Why don't I work for a nice software company where I'll earn more money and be able to interact with intelligent people?
I'm glad you asked.
The two main things that have kept me at NSA are the pension and the great amount of annual leave. Most software companies have no pension, because technical people who spend their entire careers at one company are now the exception rather than the rule. If I left the government halfway through my career I would lose most of my pension. What good is it to earn an extra $20,000 per year (for the next 12-15 years) in salary if I have to give up more than $30,000 per year (for life) in pension? As for time off, I get five weeks of annual leave per year, plus two and a half weeks of sick leave, for a total of seven and a half weeks. Most companies give only two or three weeks of annual leave, and some of them don't give any sick leave - they combine annual and sick leave into one lump of, say, four weeks. Unlike a lot of people, I consider time to be more important than money, and almost as important as beer.
Just before the turn of the millennium, NSA announced that it would start outsourcing much of its labor and that many government people would manage the work. "No way," I thought. "They can't be irresponsible enough to stop using the skills that their workers have taken decades to develop and turn these people into managers." But that's exactly what happened. A lot of people, including me, were ordered to be either "project managers" or "program managers" (yes, there is a difference, as you'll see in the next paragraph), no longer doing what we were good at but managing contractors who actually did the work. Project/program management was good for the slackers, because being a manager allowed them to justify their inactivity; but for people like me, who cannot sit still and who get bored easily, it was a nightmare. Previously I had always kept my nose buried in my computer screen and written software, which was perfect for me because I'm a typical engineer who enjoys work and hates meetings, suits, presentations, marketing, paperwork, and any business activity that requires personal interaction. As a project manager I did all sorts of red tape paperwork for which I had absolutely no training or experience, such as writing a "Statement of Work", proposing a contract to several companies for competitive bids, sending out "Request for Proposal" forms to the bidding companies, reading the companies' proposals, and evaluating their employees' résumés to make sure that they met the minimum skill requirements. The morons in the NSA Contracting Office were no help either. On more than one occasion they'd tell me that they had all the forms they needed from me, and a week or two later, when I hadn't heard from them, I'd call them and they'd tell me about yet another form which I had never heard of that they needed me to send. ("Yes, we have the Statement of Work, the Contract Data Requirements List, and the Tab A, but we're waiting for you to send a DD-254.") God forbid they should inform me about all the required forms at the same time or call me when a form is missing. After the contract was awarded I did more rocket science such as procuring desks and computers for the contractor personnel, arranging meetings with the contractors and their NSA customers, monitoring their progress as they developed software (while secretly envying them because they were doing the kind of work that I longed to do), giving presentations to senior management about the project's capabilities, and approving "Purchase Orders" which enabled funds to be sent to the contracting company. I spent more than a year doing this administrivia, and although I was fairly busy, I didn't feel very productive: the duties I performed could have been done by just about any imbecile (and we certainly have plenty of those), my talents as a software developer were completely wasted, and I was quite unfulfilled in my job. That's when, for the first time since the 1980s, I actually considered leaving the government.
Before going further I want to explain the difference between project management and program management. Program management is kind of like project management except that it serves no purpose. The way it works is you set up meetings between people who actually perform useful work, take notes during the meetings so you can send E-mails to the attendees telling them what they just talked about, and figure out how much money should be procured for each program. Then, after keeping track of all the efforts you've been told by everyone are vital to national security, government bureaucrats slash your budget and render everything you've done useless. I understand though. I mean, it's much better to give hundreds of millions of dollars to remote fungal nations and the National Endowment for the Arts than it is to defend ourselves.
Anyway, a few contractor acquaintances of mine told me that I could make much more money in private industry without enduring longer workweeks. Skeptical but curious, I put a résumé together and posted it on a few Internet sites. I got responses from several software companies and a few "headhunters". Headhunters are pimps who find prospective employees for companies to interview, and when a company hires one of these people, it pays the headhunter a finder's fee (usually 20-30 percent of the employee's starting salary). One particular headhunting firm called me on many occasions and had me come in to see them about ten times. As you'd expect, they were very pushy, and one of them threw all kinds of sales bullshit at me such as "You can do a lot better for your family" in order to trick me into leaving my sure thing for a job with one of his client companies. What a worm.
The companies who interviewed me were all pretty good. They were quite interested in me because there was (and still is) a big shortage of software developers. They offered cool, challenging technical work and more money for basically the same amount of hours I was already working. As I had predicted, though, the amount of leave wasn't nearly what I was used to, and the salary increase was not worth the pension I would be walking away from. It felt weird turning down high salaries, and I started to feel a little guilty about not accepting their offers because I knew they needed people like me, but when I remembered that about a hundred companies of precisely this sort had refused even to interview me a decade and a half earlier because I had no job experience, I didn't feel so bad. Fuck 'em.
In the summer of 2001, a deal was struck in which an alliance of software companies, headed by Computer Sciences Corporation and Northrop Grumman, would be able to recruit many hundreds of NSA employees, and then NSA would pay the companies to have their new employees perform the same jobs they did when they were on the federal payroll. Called "Project Groundbreaker", its purpose was to increase the number of outsourced positions and reduce the size of the agency's workforce while giving employees a chance to get a better deal in private industry than they could negotiate on their own. NSA management used a plethora of buzzwords in order to make this effort sound vital. For example:
The benefits of partnering with industry will help us manage our infrastructure. Specifically, this will provide for modernization of the infrastructure, agility in responding to evolving needs, recapitalization and technology refreshment, and service-based architecture. We will be able to fully leverage the capabilities, technologies, and business practices of the commercial sector, adapted to our unique needs.
Okay, now let me translate:
Most of you don't do jack squat, so we hope to dump some of you lemmings on private industry. Sure, your new employer will charge us more for your non-services than we already pay you, but at least we won't have to finance your health insurance or pension. Furthermore, we can always get rid of you later by terminating your company's contract; whereas if we tried to fire you from the government, you would file a string of lawsuits and make it more cost-effective to keep you on the payroll.
The companies offered health, leave and pension benefits that were comparable to what NSA employees were already getting, plus a signing bonus of one year's salary up to $75,000. Needless to say, hundreds of people jumped at the opportunity. Of course, neither NSA nor the companies would guarantee the newly hired former government employees long-term job security, but the deal was too good for many people to pass up. It was offered to only a fraction of the NSA population (mostly support and administrative types), and that group did not include me. Even if it had been offered to me, I probably wouldn't have taken it because it offered no job security. Either way, the result is that I am destined to continue my dead-end career in poverty and obscurity.
So this is why I continue to work where I do. I don't let all the fraud, waste and abuse bother me because I have little job stress and I get paid enough to provide a nice house in a good neighborhood for my family. I could leave the government as a matter of principle, but what good would that do? There would still be plenty of government waste, and I would get fewer days off with a private company. I think I made the right choice in staying with Uncle Sam. Who needs to remain on top of the latest technologies and keep oneself marketable when one can work with outdated systems all day and then come home to write stupid books and brew bad beer?
The public is very paranoid about the U.S. Government. And with good reason: decisions are made by politicians, most of who used to be lawyers. That in and of itself is cause for suspicion. Our government, like almost all other governments, is full of corruptible liars who think nothing of deceiving us because they are more concerned with their own personal wealth and re-election than they are with whether you or I are happy. Don't think that the infrequency of news stories about political corruption means that only a small percentage of politicians are scum; for every one we read about that gets caught in graft, embezzlement or sexual scandals, there are hundreds more that get away with it. I love to see them squirm when they get caught. Bill Clinton lied about his adulterous liaisons, then made a pathetic and shameless attempt to save face by referring to his lies as "categorical inaccuracies". And let's not forget Bud Dwyer, the treasurer of Pennsylvania, who was about to go on trial for embezzlement. He killed himself at a press conference by putting a .357 magnum in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Rumor has it that just before the press conference his wife pulled him aside and said, "Now don't go shooting your mouth off in there."
A pertinent question at this point would be: Why do slimeballs keep getting elected? If the public really does want intelligent, ethical people to lead us, then why does it vote for crooks, draft dodgers and adulterers? The answer: Because that's the only type of people who ever run for office. Politics is a thankless occupation. Good work gets mild applause, but failure is publicized and criticized. Every politician has opponents that are always scrutinizing his past, trying to dig up dirt that will make him lose public favor. Media cameras often invade public officials' private lives. No normal person wants that kind of headache. Only people who hope for some great personal gain will endure that kind of stress. It is only the huge sums of money and/or sex - which must be gotten illegally or immorally - that make being a politician worthwhile. These people, who are out for their own selfish gain, cannot be expected to do what is in the public's best interests because that usually conflicts with their own interests. Oh sure, there have been a few honest politicians such as Jesse "The Governor" Ventura and Sonny "The Corpse" Bono, but you won't find many honest people in politics because most morally upright people want to stay as far away from political office as possible; they want safe, quiet careers as teachers, secretaries, engineers, architects, etc, where their salary and recognition adequately compensate them for their work and nobody is trying to get them voted out of their job. What we are left with as political candidates are society's leftovers: a bunch of greedy, horny liars. Hence in every election we are forced to choose the candidate who we think will do the least damage. No wonder fewer than half of us show up to vote.
If you have a political gripe, some people will urge you to "write your congressman". This is sheer lunacy, given that every one of us with at least a third grade education knows that politicians are worthless piles of doody. Your congressman never even reads your letters - he's too busy taking bribes and committing adultery to waste his precious time tending to your insignificant little problem. If anyone at all reads your letter before it goes into the paper shredder, it will be a minimum-wage intern or perhaps a janitor who is looking for entertainment while on break. Then you might receive a very reassuring form letter such as:
Dear Sir or Madam:
Thank you for expressing your concern about this pressing issue. I can assure you that my staff and I are working on it right now. You, the voter-taxpayer, are extremely important to me, the votee-taxpayee, and I make it my responsibility to work in your best interests even though I don't have to. I dedicate my life to helping people. For instance, last month I spent two grueling weeks working on an important political matter in Honolulu with my two assistants, Trixie and Bubbles.
With any luck, I will have your problem solved sometime after the next election. Please be sure to tell all of your voting friends what a caring, sincere person I am.
Some folks believe that the government is hiding information about UFOs or keeping actual aliens in some secret facility (perhaps at the famed "Area 51"). People who believe this nonsense are often the same people who watch The X-Files and visit one-handed Web sites. Think about it: how come virtually all UFO sightings and alien abductions are reported by members of our lowest social strata? You'll never hear a Harvard professor or a brain surgeon claim any connection with extraterrestrial beings, but you can bet that every so often some piece of trailer trash will claim that he was kidnapped and anally probed. Even if that actually did happen, it was probably done by one of his relatives.
It always amuses me when I read ignorant speculation about government monitoring of our phone conversations and E-mail. I think that anyone who worries about this has something to hide. If you live a relatively honest life and you're comfortable with yourself, then it shouldn't bother you if some government peon reads the dirty jokes you send to a friend or hears your intimate conversation with your significant other, because you cannot be prosecuted for these things. Many people who scream about "invasion of privacy" are just worried about being caught doing something wrong. For instance, when the police consider using a new device that can instantly determine a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC), folks speak out against it because, they claim, such a device invades our privacy. The real reason it bothers them is that they sometimes drive drunk and they're worried about being caught. People who don't drive drunk need not fear such a device. As for privacy, when you're operating a vehicle on a public road where you have the potential to injure or kill others, your BAC is not a private matter. Driving is a privilege - not a right - and keeping tabs on the intoxication levels of drivers is a matter of public safety.
Anyway, back to government monitoring of our communications. Do you have any idea just how many E-mail messages and phone conversations occur every single day? Hundreds! Seriously, though, it exceeds the number of men who have slept with Madonna. In order for all of the billions of daily communications to be monitored, each of the federal government's less than three million civil servants would have to monitor thousands of calls and messages every single day, including weekends and holidays. The manpower for such an undertaking simply isn't there. It is true that a small portion of the government does some communications monitoring, but only on known dangerous entities (drug dealers, etc). Normal, average citizens like us are not targeted, mainly because the government doesn't even have the resources to gather or process all the communications of our enemies, let alone the rest of us. And even if it did, don't kid yourself that anyone considers you important enough to eavesdrop on. Your insignificant little communications are of no interest to any of our agencies. You needn't worry that federal agents are listening while you tell your best friend what you did last weekend with Raoul and a can of Crisco, because even if the government possessed the resources for this task (which it doesn't), it would have no inclination to do so.
Public paranoia about "Big Brother" was boosted in 2000 when the FBI announced that it would be using an E-mail monitoring system that it had developed in order to perform technological surveillance. Public officials and private individuals got upset about privacy issues while the FBI tried to calm them down by assuring them that the system generally recorded only E-mail addresses, that only a search warrant would allow it to obtain message content, and that FBI agents who abused the system to obtain more information than legally authorized would be subject to fines and a five-year prison sentence. Apparently the FBI was concerned about and took steps to alleviate adverse public reaction, yet for some reason it named the monitoring system "Carnivore". I'd like to know which panel of government geniuses came up with that one.
A lot of people think that our government has surveillance around the world, that there are spies and underground facilities all over the planet that keep track of what's going on everywhere. Come on, folks! Do you really think that's possible when the government can't even keep tabs on its own citizens? Most of what our "intelligence community" knows about the world it gets from CNN. There are sleazy reporters on every part of the globe poking their cameras and sound equipment everywhere in search of a breaking story with which to boost their careers. Why should the government duplicate this effort? It doesn't. Its employees merely sit back with a cup of java and watch cable.
In March 2001, CNN did a series of short news segments in which NSA tried to put people's paranoid minds to rest by assuring them that NSA's image as intrusive and evil (remember the movie Enemy of the State?) is completely wrong. The NSA Director himself stated that the agency directs its efforts at foreign entities in order to protect the U.S. and that it does not target our own citizens. So remember, folks: NSA is your friend. It's those bastards at the FBI and the CIA that you should worry about.
You might be wondering: "Why did you write this, Ben, and why the hell are you making it publicly available? Aren't you worried that NSA will disapprove? Why jeopardize your career just so you can entertain the handful of people who ever read your tripe?" First of all, none of the information posted here is classified, so nothing I've written can get me into legal trouble. Before publishing this work I submitted it to NSA's Prepublication Review Office, where a panel determined that its entire content is unclassified. (It took them more than a year to do this, which means that they read about three quarters of a page per week. By government standards, thatís actually pretty fast.) Second, this is not the most controversial text ever written about NSA. James Bamford's books The Puzzle Palace and Body of Secrets reveal a lot more about NSA than this Web page does. If his sensationalist ramblings haven't been outlawed, then certainly my little discourse is harmless. And finally, if NSA were to raise a fuss, the resulting publicity would launch me into the limelight and cause publishers to offer me book deals. Then lots of people would pay good money for their own copy. That'll never happen, because my lot in life is to remain unknown and poor.
Ben has spent his entire working life in federal government employment. He is a "lifer" who will stay in the same dead-end job for the next umpteen years because he doesn't have the spine to leave the security of guaranteed salary and pension in order to better his life in private industry. Remaining in a sheltered and outdated environment has kept him out of touch with the real world and hence made his knowledge and skills obsolete. He has become a dinosaur who couldn't possibly work on any modern computer system. No respectable company would touch him with a ten-foot pole. Flies leave fresh dogshit to follow him.