After about ten or fifteen years on the job I realized something. No one was paying any attention.
We used to get requests from Washington all the time. The moles deep in the bureaucracy were always dunning us for bits and pieces of our lives to go into the great number mash-up down there, so they could churn out ton weights of reports and papers, predict trends and justify decisions and requests for money from guys like you and me, and your Mommy and Daddy, who never know where it will go or what will be done with it, or whether it is really needed in the first place.
All of these requests were more or less demands of varying urgency. All of them had a fixed date upon which they were due so the information they requested and required could be assembled, digested and evacuated in one form or other into the great maw that is DC. Sometimes one of them would make a telephone call. “This is Memphis O’ Falony the Secretary to the Acting Deputy Assistant Director of the Numbers Compliance Section in the Division of the Assistant Deputy Assistant Undersecretary for Total Compliance in the Office of Reporting Collation and Assemblage calling. We need to know the number of people stopping by your office for directions to other offices in the building between the hours of 3:300Pm to 5:30PM on Wednesdays. The Secretary has to testify at a budget hearing before the Senate Sub-Committee on Staffing and Directing tomorrow at ten. If your office is not in a government building, please include in your reply the number of requests broken down by request type between requests for directions to government offices, medical facilities, commercial establishments, other State and Local government offices and nearby churches listed alphabetically by denomination”
For a couple of years I helped get requested stuff like that together. And we got the answers, such as they were, to the proper dwarf in the right cubbyhole down there. Then something happened to me. One day I forgot to do what had been asked. And the world did not end.
The nest time a memo from Washington, DC, appeared in my in-box I dumped it in the trash. From time to time someone would call me, or even less often the call would come into my boss. Then he would walk into where I might be lounging if I was in the office and tell me that someone was calling from Washington and mentioning my name.
“What did they want? “ I would ask.
“That thing on whether or not we prefer lace up shoes or loafers on raids? Your annual Form 2502-B? You never sent back your copy of the form, and it was due a couple of weeks ago.”
“Gee, Boss, I don’t think I ever got that.”
“Give someone down there a call and tell them to send another one, will ya’.”
“I think it’s Esmeralda Mullion in the Office of Footwear Preparedness, or somebody down there in OFP.”
I never made those calls. In many cases Esmeralda or someone like her, was doing something else, or she had transferred to another section, or she had married and left. People named Esmeralda always had short careers in Government. I doubt that at any time there are more than a mere handful of Esmereldas among the several millions of US Civil Servants.
On very rare occasions a call would come in after months, years, had gone by; after I had deep-sixed the form or the whatever, and after the boss had told me to do something about it. I remember one such occasion near the time of my retirement. Every five years we had to go through a background investigation so that Uncle Sugar would feel good about our loyalties, and know that during the last five years we had not become Maoists or members of the Sinoloa Cartel or Quran toting mad bombers. In order for that to happen we had to up-date our original background form submitted when we first applied for federal employment. Well my original was done with a quill pen on parchment.
I think I had not updated it since shortly before Grover Cleveland announced for his second try at the position now occupied by the last person who will hold it. (You figure out what I mean by that.) I mean I was still living at the same place, still married to the same woman, still eating, drinking and…well nothing had changed. Wouldn’t it have been simple enough to ask, “Anything new with you since last we talked?” So, when the little package appeared, every five years, it went where all the other stuff from down there went.
One day, like I said, about a year before I was due to go, Esmerelda’s sister Malaria called me. She was one of the people handling stuff for guys in my position; guys about to assume life-time parole status.
“I just noticed that the last update on your security clearance is fifteen years ago.”
“That’s crazy! Fifteen years ago?”
“Yes. I’m sending you a package, now. If we get it in soon enough, it can be completed before your retirement.”
“Fine. I’ll get right on it.”
I got the package a few days later and threw it away.
She called about a month later wanting to know what I had done with the package. I told her I never got it
She sent two more of them out before I finally retired. I still do not have security clearance.
Oh, here’s something else; well two things.
The guy I worked for was a retired Detective Sergeant with the NYPD. He’d been one of the aces in the Manhattan DA’s office when Frank Hogan, about the best prosecutor in the history of this country, was the DA down there. He did not really like trolls, gnomes, dwarves and moles. They bothered him as much as they bothered me. Well, since he was the boss they bothered him even more than that, and that was an awful lot. One day he yelled from his office, “I need a number!” I think one of us yelled back, something like 307 – or something like that.
A few minutes later he came out to join us and we asked for an explanation. Someone had just called from the Puzzle Palace and needed a number from the field offices about something or other for the Secretary’s next trip up to the Hill. He gave it to them.
That was the way we handled that problem from then on.
The second thing? From time to time we would be visited by one or the other of the many drones working down there in some administrative capacity. The boss would put something strong in his coffee and sit with him for a while. Outside where the rest of us were, we would dial each others extensions on the phone; the constant ringing being a sure bet the poor fool would leave believing that this was a lively and productive office.
I have often wondered how many numbers get sent down to Washington in the same way and wind up costing us all 16 trillion hard earned bucks and more.