Friday, May 8, 2015

I'm with the federal government and I'm here to help

So apparently I'm the first person in the history of the State Department to renew a badge. At least, that's how it felt. I foolishly allotted only 20 minutes for the process because I made an appointment, filled out the form in advance, and it seemed straightforward. (Go ahead and laugh.) My first attempt to submit the form resulted in having to run back upstairs to get a different signature.

Side note: You cannot get from the basement badging office to my second floor office by taking the stairs near the badging office - the door leading from the stairwell to the second floor doesn't have a handle or doorknob - and the elevator near the badging office takes you to a part of the second floor that you literally cannot escape from.

My second attempt to submit the form resulted in me having to go the second floor again and get a signature from the security office for my super secret badge. The security office couldn't find any record of me. Not very encouraging. Every person in the office was scouring file cabinets trying to find my file. At one point someone asked, "Have you looked under H for 'Heather'?" After 20 minutes the file was still missing so a workaround was discovered.

And yet, somehow, we are a global superpower. Go figure.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Maybe I'm Not Completely Dead Inside

Since starting this assignment, I've spent countless hours reading about violent extremists, their atrocities, their motivations, their propaganda. I've seen shocking images of their brutality. For the most part I've been able to compartmentalize the horror. But the gruesome images of the Jordanian pilot being burned alive really got to me. It's a profound reminder that what we're trying to accomplish matters. It's not just fodder for our EERs. So while I probably won't stop complaining about the State Department's bureaucracy and silly policies, I also need to remember the people who are affected by what we do. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Recall Message

You know that moment before you click Send when you hold your breath and say a quick prayer to the email gods that you didn't miss an embarrassing typo? When your stomach tightens because your dissemination list is hundreds of people long, including Secretary Big Shot and General Honcho? And you know at this point you've read the draft so many times that your fuzzy brain would not be able to spot a mistake, no matter how glaring?  And even though you've gotten all the clearances, it's your name in the From field. So after staring at the draft email for what seems like hours, you say, "screw it!" and click Send. Then immediately see that you misspelled a word in the subject line. Dammit.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I'll See You at the Pre-Meeting Meeting

The epitome of bureaucratic silliness is the amount of time spent supporting the bureaucracy. I recently attended a meeting where roughly 20 State Department employees sat in a room and video conferenced (yep, I made it a verb) with 11 other USG agencies, each of which had anywhere from 1 to 10 participants (that I could see). An alarming chunk of the meeting was devoted to... preparing for other meetings. There was much discussion of briefing papers for the next meeting, which would inform the agenda for yet another meeting.

FSOs who spend too much time in DC can get sucked in to the task of feeding the Washington Beast, and doing nothnig else. The Beast can devour ungodly amounts of paper, like a hungry hungry hippo at an all-you-can-eat marble buffet. A crazy amount of the bureaucracy is spent sustaining the bureaucracy. It makes me wonder how much manpower we could put to better use if we weren't so consumed with preparing for meetings and reporting on meetings. I believe it was Socrates who pondered, "If a meeting took place and nobody wrote a summary of conclusions, did it actually take place?"