Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I had an experience on the train today that I have had three or four times. I sat with two bureaucrats who used to work in the same office but are now in different buildings although still in the same agency. They spent the whole 40-minute train ride catching up. They talked mostly about work, for forty minutes, and when we reached our station I still had no idea what either one does or what agency they work for. They talked about "changes" happening with the new political appointees, but I got no idea what those changes were. They talked about retirements and other departures. One said, "I heard you fired someone; was that difficult?" and the other explained for a few minutes how difficult it was. (Lawyers were involved.) They discussed how the old Inspector General, a political appointee, had now come back as the Deputy IG, a civil service post. They talked about the budget process; one heads a group that used to have two people work on the budget part time now but said it now takes four people full time. And so on and so on, forty minutes of shop talk. And in all of it I picked up only a single clue to where they work, that their agency has a hot line that gets thousands of calls.

The wheels of bureaucracy grind on, pretty much irrespective of what part of the government you're talking about.

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