Adventures in Bureaucracy
Saturday, February 25, 2006
They sued for this?
A streaker intruded on Olympic curling. He was escorted away by security, possibly after being cornered by men with brooms.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
I find the name Tanith Belbin fascinating. It's got a sci-fi quality to it, sounding more like some "Star Wars" character than a real person. It fits right in with Leia Organa or Lando Calrissian (funny, he doesn't look Armenian) or Boba Fett. Perhaps George Lucas can digitally insert her into the next set of DVD's. She's definitely better than Jar Jar Binks.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Staffing is more than just a FEMA problem. Lots of people shuffled around when DHS was created, and lots more people are retiring, so it's pretty common to see "acting" people throughout the department.

Which segues pretty nicely into some of the good bits on yesterday's Federal Diary Live.

"Washington, D.C.: Shades of FEMA. The wheels have fallen off the wagon. Through a recent reorganization, with buyouts, early retirements and an underhanded attempt to abolish our small agency, we have lost all of our headquarters institutional memory and management is flying by the seat of its pants. Despite all the talk about results, performance, competitiveness and innovation, there is no knowledge and experience left and we are stuck in the muck and mire of ignorance, indecision, doubt, and a basic lack of management 101.
Stephen Barr: Well, D.C., this does not sound promising. A complete loss of institutional memory usually means a train wreck is around the corner. Please drop me an e-mail and tell me where you work." [Reorganization, huh? It may well be a DHS component.]
"It's possible that resignations could make things worse at Homeland Security. The department's HQ staff is overworked and morale is low in D.C. and in the field, by most accounts. It's unlikely the president could recruit replacements this far into his second term."
"Washington, D.C.: My boss retired and I've been acting in his place for seven months -- plus doing my own job (and getting the same pay). How long can this continue?"

And yes, before anyone says anything, I realize how sad - possibly verging on pathetic - it is to be this wrapped up in Federal Diary. One of the hazards of spending such a long time in the bureaucracy, I guess.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
A Pakistani was caught trying to get into Afghanistan with a false Afghan passport. Coming from Dubai, as would be a natural transit stop for someone from the country right over the Khyber Pass. "My father provided me the passport and I was only using it for job purposes." I wonder if the job involved explosives or firearms.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Moussaoui makes a fuss in court. My favorite bit:

Despite his French citizenship, he said in French-accented English: “I'm not French. ... I stand here as a Muslim only. I do not stand here with a nation of homosexual crusaders.”

I guess Hollywood really does influence people. Maybe they should have gone with someone more butch than Orlando Bloom.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Secretary Chertoff has a rough day. The scary part was the talk of restructuring - again - but it sounds like it's just FEMA. Unless I missed a broadcast e-mail today.

Tangentially related, Debbie Schlussel really, really doesn't like the woman in charge of DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
For those of you playing the home game, this morning's results for yesterday's predictions:

D.C. Public Schools- 2 hr. delay

Inner suburbs: Arlington County Public Schools- 2 hr. delay
Alexandria City Public Schools- 2 hr. delay
Fairfax County Public Schools- closed
Montgomery County Public Schools- closed
Prince George's County Public Schools- closed

Outer suburbs: Frederick County Public Schools- 2 hr. delay
Howard County Public Schools- closed
Anne Arundel County Public Schools- closed
Calvert County Public Schools- 2 hr. delay
Charles County Public Schools- 2 hr. delay
Prince William County Public Schools- closed
Loudoun County Public Schools- closed

And the clincher: Federal Government- Federal offices open on time. Unscheduled leave policy is in effect. Emergency personnel should report to work on time as scheduled.

Which means I should stop futzing around on the computer and get ready for work.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Switching gears somewhat, here's an interesting piece on the end of the Austrian Empire. (via Dappled Things, who has got pictures of the great blizzard of aught-six.)
Regular readers of this space (all three of you) may wonder at the number of posts here today. There's an easy explanation: my DVD player crapped out on me.
More visa-related crime: Indian police bust a ring making fake visas for Saudi Arabia.

There are a lot of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia, and it looks like it's not exactly an easy assignment.
A person applies for a U.S. passport in the identity of a missing child, and steals a large amount of computer equipment as well.
The president of the European Commission accuses the United States of "discriminating" against new members of the European Union with the Visa Waiver Program. This criticism might have a little more weight if some of the biggest members of the E.U. didn't discriminate against new members of the European Union. Remember all the brouhaha about Polish plumbers in France? So much for unrestricted labor mobility within Europe.

The European Commission appears to be looking at this in the wrong way. The "European Union" has no meaning in U.S. immigration law, so for the visa exemption, it makes no difference whether a country is E.U. or not. Theoretically any country that meets the requirements set forth in section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act is eligible. Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand are all in the program, and Argentina and Uruguay used to be, before all that unpleasantness with the economic meltdown in Argentina. Slovenia was in the program even before it was in the European Union, while Greece has been in the European Union but has never been in the Visa Waiver Program.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Visa Waiver Program in the next few years. Many countries have been pushing to get the visa-exemption for their nationals, and it's a perennial political issue in relations with the United States. South Korea has been pushing for it for years and years- even when I was back in the airport - and they might even meet the eligibility requirements for it sometime in this decade. The visa exemption has been a big issue for Poland too, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a purely political decision to grant a visa waiver for Polish visitors, even if Poland doesn't meet the section 217 criteria. It comes up as a bilateral issue with other countries as well, all of which want the United States to waive the tourist visa requirement for their citizens, but there are also critics who say the entire program should be scrapped as a security measure.

What would Mr. Barroso think of that?

More here.
Came across an interesting site while clicking around the hyperlinks: Slavs of New York, which will now have a hyperlink of its own on the right. They've got a post on Slavs in Washington, which looks like it would make a good theme weekend next time certain friends of mine are in town.
This exhibit looks pretty good, even if it is buried under a foot of snow today in New York.
Except for a few flurries, the great storm of aught-six is over for the Washington, D.C. area. I trudged through the snow to make it to church on time via Metro, and the roads were pretty much clear for the return journey. The sidewalks are another matter. (I thought it was because of laziness, but it appears that some people are actively evil.)

The betting has already started for how last night's snow storm will affect tomorrow's workday. My predictions: schools in the outer suburbs close, inner suburbs and D.C. on a two-hour delay, and federal government on unscheduled leave. Not that I'd mind a day off, but they've got plenty of time to clear even the secondary routes before rush hour tomorrow morning.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Talk about tempting fate.

Well, maybe not fate so much as an angry mob.
More bad news for the Department. Former DEA. Every time someone goes bad, I (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) look to make sure it wasn't someone from my own (former) agency.
The Department gets more bad press in the Michael Brown hearings.

Internal turf wars siphoned away FEMA's disaster response capability and funding, Brown said. If not repaired, he said, the Department of Homeland Security is "doomed to fail, and that will fail the country."
"Had there been a report coming out . . . that said, 'Yes, we've confirmed that a terrorist has blown up the 17th Street Canal levee,' then everybody would have jumped all over that and been trying to do everything they could," Brown said. "But because this was a natural disaster, that has become the stepchild within the Department of Homeland Security."
Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) called Brown's remarks "staggering." He said they demonstrated "a dysfunctional department to a degree far greater than any we've seen."

I think there's something to be said for the idea that the structure of DHS is not exactly conducive to the flow of information. There are so many abbreviations and acronyms that I can't keep up with them, and trying to figure out which offices are interested in which issues is a big challenge.

Then "terrorism-uber-alles" argument also comes up rather often, especially when I hear from people in CBP or ICE talking about how big a priority immigration enforcement seems to be these days.

As for "dysfunctional"? Seems a bit harsh.
Friday, February 10, 2006
"Do you have anything to declare?"

Yet another reason I am thankful I got out of airport work when I did.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
The long warm spell in Washington has lulled us into complacency. January days in the sixties, spring-like showers, and even some early buds on the trees. But suddenly that dreaded word is back in the forecast: snow. And even worse, it's prefixed by that most awful adjective: accumulating.

Yes, winter's back, and it's time to panic.
Customs and Border Protection turns around Jose Bove at JFK airport. Sounds like a fair cop to me.
You'd think they would have picked up on this during the background investigation.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Articles like this one about evangelical missionaries in the Amazon disturb me. No, not the evangelical part, but the underlying assumption that it's OK to treat these Amazonians like they were living in a zoo, to be looked at but otherwise ignored.

"In an effort to protect indigenous culture, many government officials do not want to introduce outside influences in tribal villages including food and medicine. ... Suruwaha parents, like many hunting tribes in the Amazon, traditionally abandon children with physical deficiencies to die in the jungle."

This is the 21st century!

I've seen documentaries about the Amazonian tribes, and I've briefly discussed this with a Brazilian acquaintance of mine - these people are still living in the Stone Age in a country that exports airplanes. Why is this way of life something that must be maintained, and the people put on preserves to live difficult - and short - lives without benefit from the technology that the rest of humanity has developed?

My Brazilian friend and I both agreed that if we lived in the Amazon, the first thing we'd do is hop a bus to Rio.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Perhaps there's more to climate change than carbon dioxide.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Fake visas are going for quite a lot of money these days in China.
How times change. Here's a headline that would have meant something else entirely thirty years ago:

Ireland must wean itself off immigrant dependency.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
In local news, it looks like a new museum will be going up on the Mall.

A local columnist has this to say:

"[T]he debate over the balkanization of American history now appears to be resolved in favor of slicing our past into ethnic bits. The Holocaust museum, which, though privately built and run sits on federal land, started this unfortunate trend, and now we have the Indian museum and the black museum and surely before long the Hispanic museum and perhaps an Asian museum. All of which leaves the American History museum as a big barn full of stuff without much in the way of any all-encompassing theme. Shouldn't the Smithsonian's job be to present and synthesize our history, to detail our past in all its glory and missteps, but also to help find the Unum in E Pluribus Unum? Instead, we get a celebration of separation, stepping away from exploring our common goals and needs.

The resulting institutions make little effort to reach out beyond their demographic slice of the nation. The Indian museum sees its mission as one of celebration, not the rigorous examination of the past that would justify spending federal tax dollars on a cultural institution. The best exhibits at the American History museum over the years have asked tough questions, presenting the past as it was and wondering whether and how it could have been better. Toward a more perfect union, as it were. Otherwise, we're just building a theme park of separate realities."
This posting brings together two themes recently touched upon in this space: musicals, and "What's the matter with kids today?". OK, so maybe it doesn't exactly bring up that latter point, but one of the comments brings it home:

"Abe "Grandpa" Simpson: I used to be with it, but then they changed what "it" was. Now, what I'm with isn't it, and what's "it" seems weird and scary to me."
Friday, February 03, 2006
When you hear about visa lines stretched around the block, you may think about a lot of places, none of them particularly great. But Paris?
Oh my.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
It's always good to know that you're not the only one with a certain opinion, and I certainly agree with everything here:

That does it. I am officially Old, Over the Hill, and Totally Past Getting the younger generation. I can’t stand their music, I think the way they dress makes the homeless bums that ride the bus all day here look like masters of sartorial elegance in comparison, am disgusted and appalled at the horrid things they do to their bodies ... But the kids don’t see too many adults comport themselves with what used to be called “dignity,” and that term has been debased just like “respect” has to mean “don’t object to anything I do or say, and let me do whatever I want.” So it’s not that surprising that the children are imitating their elders, the way they have always done. Being less socially developed, of course, they take a more basic route. Adults get their jollies by watching porn or acting like slobs; children just go straight to acting like animals. One more progressive “victory” over stultifying bourgeois “rules” of behavior.

If you're one of those people who think kids will be kids, click to see what's got Andrea Harris feeling this way and tell me how this is just like what you did in high school.
The Department of Homeland Security pulled huge numbers of people away from other federal departments. And look at this:

In 2004, according to OPM, the "typical fed" was 46.8 years old, had served in government for 16.5 years, held a white-collar job under the General Schedule pay system and earned $59,238. (This year, the average GS salary was $63,125, and $80,425 in the Washington area.)

This could be one explanation for the local property market, which has yet to pop.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
"The government will likely face a "retirement tsunami" in the next few years and needs to begin taking steps now to expand employment opportunities for the next generation of public servants, the director of the Office of Personnel Management said yesterday."

So it looks like there are going to be a lot of openings up along the career ladder. I've seen it in my own organization, where people are lined up for retirement like planes coming into National Airport. But I don't know whether I agree that this will make the government more flexible as an employer. No, I see the generation below the currently retiring one forming a gerontocracy that we'll have for the next thirty years, blocking all advancement from below.
This is my new favorite joke:

My friend drowned in a bowl of muesli. A strong currant pulled him in.

And this one comes close:

A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet.
"My dog's cross-eyed, is there anything you can do for him?"
"Well," says the vet, "let's have a look at him"
So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then checks his teeth.
Finally he says, "I'm going to have to put him down."
"What? Because he's cross-eyed? "
"No, because he's really heavy."
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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