Sep 4

Bureaucracy

Category: Work

Exposition: At work, I am responsible for coordinating a small operation with the Navy. We need training to do this. We can’t go ahead until we get the training. I’ve spent several days determining that out of the 325,000 people in the Navy, there is a single LtCdr (Lieutenant Commander) authorized to take our money and start the training.

Me: (On telephone, to the LtCdr) Hello, I’m a civvy contractor, and I have some people that need to get trained for the <blah blah> course. Where should I start?

LtCdr: You have to start with me. I’m the only person who can do this.

Me: Fantastic! I’m so happy to be speaking with you (Genuinely pleased). What is my first step?

LtCdr: We can’t take any money. We are only allowed so much per year, and we’ve reached our limit. You can’t take any classes until October.

Me: Wow. Ok, I understand (Crap, tripped up before the race even started!). But, if we wait that long, we won’t get trained in time.

LtCdr: No problem. Call me on October 1 (Already moving to replace the telephone on the cradle).

Me: Well, you see, I’ve checked and there are no classes in October. In other words, when there are classes, you won’t take my money, but when you will take my money, there are no classes. See my problem?

LtCdr: Yes. <waits in silence>

Me: (Bewildered) So, Ugh… what can be done about that?

LtCdr: (Dispassionate) Call me on Oct 1.

Me: Hmm. Well… it will be too late by then.

LtCdr: (Utterly uninvolved) Sorry.

Me: I have to get this done. Perhaps there is an alternative way to deal with this. (I suggest several ways).

LtCdr. (Realizing that I’m not about to give up easily, brings out the secret weapon) Is your budget OPN or multi-year R&D?

Me: What is OPN?

LtCdr: (a direct hit!) It has to be one of those.

Me: (Extremely polite) Yes, thank you. What is OPN?

LtCdr: (Smug) It has to be OPN or Multi-year R&D.

Me: Um… this is R&D activity, and we’ve been doing it for years. Do you need official verification?

LtCdr: Is it OPN?

Me: I don’t know. Please explain, what is OPN?

LtCdr: (Victoriously) It’s what it has to be for me to take it.

Me: (Thinking that maybe this is a Turing test) Thanks. Does OPN stand for something? Is it an acronym?

LtCdr: ( Let the circle be unbroken) It has to be OPN or multi-year R&D.

Me: Well, here’s our Navy budget number. Does that make this clearer?

LtCdr: (Examining fingernails) No.

Me: (Frustrated, still in control of myself) The Navy gave me that number… it’s the only number we’ve ever had to use… we are working for the Navy… you are in the navy… can you see if it is OPN or officially multi-year R&D?

LtCdr: That number means nothing to me (and that’s not the only thing).

Me: What is the definition of OPN?

LtCdr: It’s what we’re allowed to take now.

Me: How can I tell if my budget is OPN or multi-year?

LtCdr: I don’t know.

Me: Listen, I don’t know OPN from OBGYN. I didn’t decide to undertake this operation, nor did I write the contract. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

LtCdr: Yes.

Me: (Retreat!) I’ll call you back.

So now I went and did some research, speaking with people who control budgets and have dealt with the navy for years. “Yes,” they said, “Of course it’s multi-year R&D, but we have no way of proving it, and we have no idea what OPN is.” Several days of precious time are thus consumed. Reluctantly, I phone the LtCdr. This also requires several days, as she’s often out, or the phone doesn’t get answered, regardless of the time, or sometimes another person answers and tells me that she’s on her afternoon run.

Me: Hi, it’s me again.

LtCdr: (Detached, distracted) Yes.

Me: Do you need some sort of official confirmation that this is a multi-year R&D OPN budget? Or can I just tell you?

LtCdr: Is it OPN or Multi-year R&D?

Me: Yes.

LtCdr: (a cat eventually tires of toying with its prey) OK, why didn’t you say so?

I pretended that everything was normal; I couldn’t afford to mess it up – concentrate – use the force – complete the mission! Play like everything is normal.

But she still has a chance. I won’t believe it’s OK until the guys are trained.

3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Niffer September 5th, 2008 10:03 AM

    This is hilarious! I can totally picture the conversation happening. It’s amazing how some conversations just get nowhere when you keep asking for clarification. It seems to happen so much more with the government, but it always makes for a great story even if it’s frustrating at the time.

  2. Angelica October 7th, 2008 5:47 PM

    Edie sent this over to me, shame on Malcolm for not sharing.

    Frightening, I had the same budgeting conversation all last month, only mine was army acquisition logistics.

    I guess we are all screwed. :)

  3. jdp November 13th, 2008 8:25 PM

    This reminds me of who’s on first. Dan, next time just say Yes.

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