Some days you know you could have done better. Today was one of those days for me.

I work for a government agency. Without getting into too much detail, my particular area has approximately 70 employees. Of those, 12 of them are GS-14. If you are not familiar with the civil service, civilians can be classified on the General Schedule (GS) up to GS 15. After that, they can be classified as Senior Executive Service (SES), but this is extremely rare as it is the civilian equivalent of a general. Any of you who have had military service can immediately see an issue with what I have just written. If the GS 14/15 level is roughly equivalent to a lieutenant colonel or colonel, then we have 12 of those positions for a total workforce of 70 people. A fellow employee of mine previously served as a captain in the Air Force, and at that time he was responsible for 30 people. So 12 high level civil servants for a workforce of 70 takes the term "too many chiefs and not enough Indians" to a new level. To compound this, several of those 14's have only a handful of individuals working under them, or in a few cases, no additional employees working under them. Clearly, our management structure is top-heavy.

Now, if you think of a pyramid, turn it upside down, and put the GS 15/14/13 grades at the top, and GS 9/11 at the bottom, you get a rough approximation of our staff. Here's the kicker, I'm way down on that pyramid, but together with my best friend, I am responsible for about 30 of those individuals and how they fill their day. I do not sign their paychecks, and I have no discipline power over them, but if they fail in some way I'm the one held accountable. This makes for a lot of unpleasant situations throughout my week.

Today one of the GS-14s completely circumvented me and sent a text message to my partner asking questions about a current project. My partner is on vacation, and this person was completely aware of the fact, but chose to text my partner instead of asking me the question because I am viewed as difficult due to my outspoken nature about work efforts from upper management. My partner called me to find out why I had not handled the situation, and after learning that I had never even been informed the question, grew very frustrated with this GS-14. This person was previously responsible for one of our areas, but after years and millions of dollars spent, he still had not delivered a promised product and was placed into a new branch. My partner and I were given his area, as well as several others, for the simple fact that we get work done.

I have often discussed my arm troubles, so for me to be one of the top producers in an area that predominantly works on computers is a glaring condemnation of the general level of effort around me. This particular person is notorious for questionable decisions regarding purchasing, staffing, and travel. So when my partner requested that I e-mail a relevant file to the GS-14, I did so in the most terse manner. However, an hour later I received an e-mail from one of the handful of people working under this GS-14 requesting the same file. Apparently, he never communicated that he had the conversation with us or received the file from us with his team members even though they sit within 15 feet of him and he felt the issue was urgent enough to text my friend on vacation.

This is where I could have done better. I e-mailed the file to his team, but noted that I had delivered the file an hour earlier to him.

That probably doesn't sound like much, but at its heart it was a petty comment. His team members are not responsible, and certainly have no influence over him, so pointing out his ineffectiveness was essentially wasted effort on them and can only result in me looking like a dick. Which I am, truth be told, but I try to control it. In any case, I left work feeling bummed out, and regretted being so petty. For someone who spends a lot of time thinking about self-improvement, there are a lot more days where I leave work feeling regret than any positive feeling about my actions throughout the day.

If ever there was a situation where the word Kafkaesque applied, it would be at my current job. So many times, so so many times, I have wondered "How can everyone be OK with this?" We had a woman who refused to come to work for four months because she did not like her new supervisor. That entire time she received benefits and credit towards retirement. Ultimately, she returned to work (and when I say returned, I mean that she was in the office for one or two days each week) in order to spend a few months completing her retirement paperwork. She retired last week, but not before receiving a service award. This is the same person who previously brought in portable DVD player to watch movies throughout the day. I shit you not.

So for every day that I make a petty comment and regret it, there are three days where something like this happens.

This is not say that there are no hard workers in our organization. We certainly have conscientious, effective people at every level of the general schedule that we staff. And things are improving, mostly from retirements, but also from a slowly growing recognition that as the current funding climate brings renewed attention on all federal programs, we must make a better effort of showing value added. But all too frequently I deal with people who are so entrenched in the system that it really is near impossible to affect positive change. Too many of my days are spent stuffing my cheeks with food and crash landing in the ocean. But one day I will ride that raft to freedom.

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