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St. Patrick’s Day 2013 - The Memorandum

When I worked at a federal agency in the 1980s, there was an official memorandum pinned to the cubicle wall of an engineering technician. I read the memo and asked if it was a joke. This co-worker stated that it was not a joke. I whispered that some of us had to engage in this scandalous activity to survive! He took the memo down from the fabric wall and handed to me. His eyes peered over his large eyeglasses as he intoned the advice to read the memo again, fully, and often if necessary.

And so, while the following is not quite in the utterly humorless spirit of the administrative ogress whom I now call Nurse Ratched, it is nonetheless my best recollection of her memorandum, “The Ways to Tell if A Federal Employee is Moonlighting.”

Driving a car that looks too expensive or too large for one’s salary. No problem for me there. I did not yet own the lemon of the car that Husband came to call “the ex-car.” My office shoes were swapped out for sneakers a decade before this look became de rigueur for the female office worker en route from home to work and vice versa.

Wearing clothes that look too high-priced or luxurious. This one was insulting. Had Ratched not seen the tragic polyester pants being worn by most engineers? (Looking back, though, I can see how anyone wearing natural fibers, a true luxury at the time, was suspect and stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of polyester.) As for me, I rotated my 4 polyester dresses, adding a blazer or sweater now and then so it looked like I was not wearing the same dress two days in a row.

Flashing high-priced jewelry or watches, another sign of moonlighting. My JC Penney Timex watch was in no danger of looking high-priced, although I did see a female supervisor wearing the same one which may have upped its cachet.

Taking annual leave of unusual timing or leave that does not coincide with holidays, thus implicating the employee was using the leave for the moonlighting job. No problem for this federal employee; I was on the lower rung of accruing annual leave.

Vacationing in foreign or exotic locales. This one I found obscene. The majority of federal employees that I saw worked very hard for peanuts. The engineers began at lower pay than the private sector, and they received promotions at a snail’s pace. But most employees worked hard because they’d made a commitment to do a good job, and they deserved every hour off that they took, regardless of where they went. Reno was the usual destination, and it’s hardly exotic. I knew two clericals who went to Hawaii, and I imagine Ratched suspiciously eyed their tanned skin and leis around their slender necks! Blatant vacationers in an exotic locale!

The word “federal” is “Federal” in the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual because it is synonymous with the United States; therefore a Federal employee may be required to obtain approval for concurrent employment outside of said Federal service to verify that a conflict of interest does not exist. Nurse Ratched was an all-too-common, loathsome example of someone taking a general policy or agency regulation to the furthest extreme in a particular office location. Her insistence that employees detect and then report (rat out) one another was particularly vile. It was the beginning of the end of camaraderie among office employees in this outpost.

Trust is a precious commodity that cannot be bought, just silently exchanged. With the Ratcheds of America running rampant through the public and private sectors, trust has been stomped upon like a pest. The enemy is not the employee; the enemy is the bureaucrat who seeks to advance herself at the expense of others. She believes that employees exist to produce for her paperwork, forms, regulations, and rules whose “violations” are further offenses which are all “actionable.” The employees are a group to be watched constantly.

This attitude of the all-powerful overseer is not new. It’s been around since the invention of bureaucracy which dates back to the Sumerians and the Egyptians, if not before ancient Babylon. (Building of the pyramids comes to mind.) We now have Big Brother and Big Sister, and they are a malicious pair, obsessively ready to pounce upon any employee who dares to defy the cherished paperwork of the regulations of Nanny State. Nanny in the organizational picture is the big bulge in the middle.

The hierarchical pyramid currently resembles a circle with the CEO at the North Pole without Willis & Geiger protective gear. (A single offense means: Off with his head!) The overseers now outnumber the actual workers. The bureaucrats and bean counters are dependent upon the technical experts to do the work, but they incessantly perform surveillance of these crucial workers. The saddest and most repugnant aspect of this state of non-productivity is that no one is really in charge, but everyone is telling the workers what to do. The making of a true decision in many organizations is a heralded event, known as a News Alert!

Instead of decisive action, there is the chronic blathering of indecisive hand-wringers, and the sense that one is being nibbled to death by a duck. The conference calls of non-decision-making are the linguine of angst and guilt and anxiety over not making a decision, or over making a partial decision that negates the previous partial decision. The chattering of business calls is all emotion, and it’s all a waste of time. The fish rots from the head down, but the smell has to be endured by the rank-and-file.

The concept of a “competitive edge” will be forever gone until the circle is shaped and honed back to the old hierarchical pyramid. Pyramid power!

Man is a social animal; some might say that woman is too. The social fabric of the country is being strained by the rules, regulations, lawsuits, and resentments that thrive in a litigious society. Camaraderie in the workplace is impossible without a sense of trust and the willingness of people to work with and for the group, and to set aside some of their self-interests for the sake of the group. The office world, both public and private, has become a haven for hostility because far too often the non-producers outnumber the producers. The sense of well-being and fulfillment that once guided employees to their job has been replaced by the bare necessity to earn a living, and even that goal becomes more elusive and taxing by the day.

It’s time to wise up and see that the non-producers are interested in the process, not the product. The process empowers them, the high priests and priestesses of the Process. Deep down, they feel vulnerable: they know that they are not, to use the current jargon, “mission-essential.” And the workers just want to produce something of worth, a product they can be proud of. The fabric of society is part of this proud product called an America that is powerful and productive. Once that fabric is torn, it is not easily mended.


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