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?"

Saturday, November 1, 2014

With a Wink and a Smile

If necessity is the mother of invention, bureaucracy is the mother of workarounds. The State Department has decades worth of regulations piled up on top of each other, like trying to cram new clothes into a closet that hasn't been cleaned out in ages. This bidding season - my first in DC - has shown me how folks cleverly get around regulations regarding the assignments process.

A person currently looking for his or her next assignment had to submit all bids by October 17. Bureaus cannot officially extend a "handshake" offer to a bidder until November 10. So bidders and bureaus dance around each other like two people who just started dating, each one trying to get a sense of the other's level of interest. A bidder might be lucky enough to get a "wink" or an "air kiss" from a flirtatious bureau prior to November 10. One bureau's bold workaround for the waiting period is to alert a bidder that he or she is the "bureau leading candidate" for a position, and requires a positive or negative response to this declaration within 24 hours. Like a man telling his girlfriend, "Before I propose to you, I want you to tell me whether you would say 'yes.'"

With all of the innuendos and code words floating around, it's hard to understand the purpose of the November 10 date. Who benefits by imposing a chaste "no handshake" period? Somebody just put a ring on my finger already!

UPDATE (Nov 10): EUR has made an honest women of me. Next stop - Vilnius, Lithuania in 2016.