Words On Paper

Words On Paper

The first piece of legislation signed into Law after the 2004 elections was the Federal Environmental Omnibus Development Act, or FEOD. It had been a bitter campaign, with, at time, FEOD being a nasty bone of contention amongst both houses of Congress. Not to mention the monumental effort from the various industrial lobbies to squash it before November, and the environmentalists who fought to the death (at times literally) to keep the bill afloat.

But in the great spirit of successful Congressional legislation, FEOD represented a massive compromise on all sides. For every industrial limitation there was just compensation. For every acre of land where development was prohibited, the Federal government would subsidize low-income housing and rapid public transportation in a nearby city. In his first State of the Union message, the newly-elected President hailed the new law as the “…first real step towards fully actualizing our goals for the environment in the new millennium.”

“FEOD proves that the Government can create new jobs without further polluting our mother planet, thus continuing the prosperity enjoyed not just by all Americans, but by all the world’s peoples,” said the President, beaming. “Though I would have wished this to be the first law signed four years ago, I think that I speak for all of us when I say four years late is still in time to save the planet. America must continue to be the leader in rebuilding and protecting the environment.”

The President had a right to be happy. He’d introduced the bill in 2000 and had fought uphill all the way for its passage. FEOD was crafted to be all-encompassing. It covered vehicle emissions, factory emissions, and building emissions; all manner of effluent; every known recyclable; and even contained a few initiatives for solar power. Perhaps the crowning glory of FEOD, though, was the creation of a new agency whose responsibility was overseeing all other Government agencies with even the most remote possibility of involvement with anything FEOD-oriented.

The obvious agencies affected were the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the earlier-revived Department of Energy. However, FEOD found its way into the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Peace Corps, Americorps, the Veterans Administration, the IRS, General Services Administration, Office of Management and Budget, Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation, Commerce Department, and even the Department of Education.

The general response from each affected agency was to create a titled position with duties being “assurance of FEOD compliance.” This might as well have been a directive, written into the law.

By January 20, 2006 a report was due to the President concerning the completeness of FEOD compliance throughout the Government (an Executive Order had made completeness of compliance mandatory for all agencies by December 31, 2005). Though the report wasn’t completed by then, monthly interim reports from each affected agency had been coming to FEOD’s offices, by way of e-mail. These interim reports were then compiled into a monthly update package going to the President’s FEOD Under-secretary who would brief the President on FEOD compliance.

And although the annual report didn’t come in on time, several of the FEOD coordinates at the various affected agencies were given sizable incentive awards based on their efforts at putting together the monthly interim reports.

On November 1, 2006, the President received his report. His one-page summary, prepared by the FEOD Under-secretary explained that all affected agencies had reached or exceeded their goals of 90% FEOD compliance. Paragraph three mentioned that all affected agencies had an FEOD Compliance Office, staffed with an FEOD Compliance Officer, as part of their organizational plan. This pleased the President who mentioned it in his next State of the Union message. “I am very pleased,” began the President, “that all Federal agencies are in full compliance with Federal Environmental Omnibus Development.”

On March 12, 2007 Tim Land started work as an FEOD Compliance Reviewer for the FEOD Under-secretary’s office. He’d taken the job after five years as a Field Biologist with the F___. Being a Field Biologist was quite enjoyable, but his six-months pregnant wife wanted to move on and had quit her job as an architect in Syracuse and taken a new position in Washington, DC., where she’d grown up. By sheer coincidence, the FEOD reviewer’s position came through a month after Tim’s wife left for Washington, where she was staying with her parents until Tim was able to leave F___ (regardless of the FEOD job, Tim had planned to quit the F___ to be with his wife).

His first day on the job was as he would have expected, consisting of being led around the office, introductions, filling out a few HR forms and finding a suitable workspace. After getting settled, Tim’s immediate supervisor, Belladanna Braeburn, asked about his feelings so far.

“I’m pretty excited,” said Tim. “I’m glad to be in Washington and I’m looking forward to a desk job after being out in the field for so long.”

“Good,” replied Belladanna, “because we have a lot of work here. We just lost two people, and until we make them up, you’re going to be a very busy man!”

“Like I said, I’m looking forward to it!”

Belladanna stepped outside of Tim’s cubicle and returned a moment later with a stack of thick reports. “OK, I need you to check these reports out for FEOD compliance! Enjoy!” The reports made a loud “thud” on Tim’s desk.

Tim laughed and said, “aha! a challenge!”

“If you have any questions, seriously, feel free to ask.”

“OK, then, what exactly am I supposed to do with these? It looks like, what, ten reports from all over. Here’s one from EPA about permitting, that should be no problem, this one’s from the C___, now them , I know oh too well; here’s another from the C___, and another; this one’s from the Navy, never worked with them before…”

“So far you’re doing exactly what you should be doing!”

“I would suppose that a letter with the results of my review should go out to the contacts at the various agencies, right?”

“Very good.”

“When are they due?”

“The only one that’s past due is one of those from the C___, which we’ve had for four months. The others have only been here about two months.”

“Um, how come they’ve been here so long?”

“I told you we lost two people, right? Well, there’s been no one available to pick up where they left off.”

“OK, not to be rude, but did you look at any of these?”

“I haven’t been able to do it because I’ve been working on our budget projections since January.”

Tim laughed out loud and said, “Whew! For a minute I forgot I was working for the Government!”

Belladanna laughed as well. “That’s how it is, you know!”

“So, let’s check out the C___ report that’s been here four months, first.”

“Very good, I’ll leave you alone.”

After Belladanna left Tim turned on his computer and was immediately greeted by a “log-in” screen. He then remembered that a username and password (and subsequently, an e-mail address) wouldn’t be assigned to him until next week. He got up and asked the administrative assistant if there was some way he could use his computer until his username and password were assigned. The secretary didn’t know, but if he needed typing she could do it for him. He thanked her and went back to his desk.

He immediately went back to the secretary and asked her where the office supplies were as he needed a pad of paper.

“Here,” the secretary said as she handed Tim a pad of paper. “Give me a list of everything you’ll need, and I’ll get it for you.”

Tim replied, “I can’t just go to the supply cabinet and get it myself?”

“We don’t have a supply cabinet. We have a supply office that’s in charge of all paper. You’re supposed to send all memos, letters, notes, reports, anything, by e-mail.”

“Who do I send them to?”

Belladanna stepped out of her office and said, “Tim, part of FEOD is a complete virtualization of all Government offices. We reduce our dependence on paper and do everything electronically.”

“Really?” said Tim. “That’s amazing! I’m impressed. But until I get my username and password, what do I do? Really, I’m not trying to be smart the first day on the job, but…”

“We’re good at what we do, Tim,” replied Belladanna. “Georgette can type up whatever you need in the time being and e-mail it to me for signature, and until next week, she’ll forward it back to the right people.”

“Who’s Georgette?”

“I am,” said the secretary.

“Oh! Sorry, I didn’t see the name plate! OK, Georgette, sorry about that. Um, let me ask you this, then. How come I have printed copies of all these reports, aren’t they supposed to be in electronic form exclusively?”

Belladanna replied before Georgette could: “you catch on quick! What happens is this: the report comes from wherever to Georgette, who forwards it on to the appropriate reviewer. Since you’re the only reviewer here, I had her print everything out just so you could get what needed to be done this first week. What you’re doing isn’t hard, but it is important enough to warrant using so much paper.”

“Believe me,” said Georgette, “it wasn’t easy to authorize printing out all those reports.”

Tim went back to his desk with the paper Georgette gave him and his new deadline. He sat down, re-adjusted his chair and opened the four-month old report from the C___. He figured he’d simply check the table of contents for “FEOD Compliance,” which was similar to what he’d been doing on occasion for F___ concerning environmental policy reviews of proposed work in his area. He noticed that this report did, in fact, address FEOD (paragraph 23.b and section two of Appendix “E” – Environmental Compliance). The title of the report was “General Design Analysis with Environmental Restoration Feasibility of Lincoln Park Reach – Hog River Inlet.”

Tim got up and walked back to Georgette’s desk. “Georgette,” he asked, “are there any samples of FEOD review letters?”

“I’ll e-mail one to you,” she replied.

“OK, then I’ll get it next week…” he half-sarcastically replied.

“Oh! You’re right! Ha-ha! I’ll print one out, no one will notice.” After about a minute she handed the two-page letter to Tim. He thanked her and went back to his desk.

The review process was relatively simple: FEOD compliance required fifty separate policies to be answered. His review letter would indicate that either the subject report was or was not in compliance with each of these fifty policies. If all fifty policies were deemed satisfied, an FEOD compliance letter would be sent electronically to the agency in question. If not, a letter to that effect would go out and the report must be resubmitted. Normally, the review process was to take no more than two months unless circumstances required more time.

As Tim would have expected, from his previous experience with F___, a law like FEOD would be addressed in a few pages in the body of a report, with a point-by-point discussion in the appendix. That the report he was now reviewing only discussed FEOD in one paragraph of the report, rather than an entire FEOD compliance section , raised a flag. He immediately turned to paragraph 23.b which read:

“23.b. FEOD Compliance. Compliance with Federal Environmental Omnibus Development is fully satisfied. See Appendix E.”

That’s it? thought Tim. The sample review letter Georgette gave him pertained to a Commerce Department report recommending new railway construction and it appeared that the Commerce Department had paid a lot of attention to FEOD — the letter referred to an FEOD Compliance chapter rather than a single paragraph. He turned to Appendix “E” and read, in large, centered type:

“Appendix E – Environmental Compliance”

Further down the page he read:

“Section 2 – FEOD Compliance.”

He turned to section 2 and found a single page and read:

“FEOD compliance pending completion of Appendix E and will be provided when completed.”

He was somewhat flabbergasted, but not altogether surprised. He’d seen this kind of thing before, especially when permitting documentation wasn’t available at the time a report went to press. He went over to Belladanna’s desk.

“I know this is my first day, but you’ve seen this report, haven’t you?” he asked.

“You mean the Lincoln Park one?” she replied.

“Yes. There’s nothing here.”

“I knew that, but we haven’t had anyone to review it for a while, as I mentioned. Give the C___ a call, and see if they can send down their FEOD documentation.”

Tim went back to his desk and located the contact at the C___ for the report. Someone named Romy Stevens was the Project Manager. An e-mail address was provided, but the only telephone contact was a three-digit extension. He got up and went over to Georgette.

“Georgette,” he said. “Sorry to bother you once again…”

“Oh, I’m not bothered at all,” she replied.

“Good. Well, I need to get in touch with this person and I only have an e-mail address and an extension. Do you have any way I can get a complete telephone number for this person?” He handed her the contact page from the report with “Romy Stevens” circled.

She took the page and said, “when is your phone supposed to come in?”

“Next week, with my username.”

“OK, I’ll e-mail her and get her phone number.”

Tim went back to his desk. By now it was three in the afternoon, and he’d be leaving for home in another hour. He took another look at the report and found a “pertinent correspondence” appendix. He found a memorandum with a complete phone number for Romy Stevens’ office, with the closing paragraph stating that one could contact her at extension 687. He went back to Georgette.

“Don’t worry about that e-mail, Georgette,” he said. “I think I have a good lead on the phone number.”

She replied, “good, because the message I sent to her just bounced back as ‘undeliverable.'”

“Great. Can I use your phone?”

“Of course.”

“Let’s see… It’s lunch time where she should be right now, I’ll try and get her on voice mail.” He punched in the phone number and after two rings got an answer.

“Colonel Palsky’s office,” said the voice on the other line.

“Hi, this is Tim Land with FEOD, how are you?”

“Fine, thank you. The colonel’s out this week.”

“Well, I’m not trying to reach the colonel, but I’m looking for a project manager named Romy Stevens.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“Well, I have a report here that came from your office and I need to get in touch with Romy Stevens.”

“Hold on.” The other end of the phone made a beeping sound. A full two minutes went by before the beeping stopped. “Sir?” said the voice.

“Yes? I’m still here.”

“I’m going to transfer you, hold on.”

Dial tone. He tried the number again, and got a busy signal. He tried again and the same voice as before answered.

“Colonel Palsky’s office.”

“Hi, this is Tim Land again. I think we got cut off somehow.”

“OK, who did you want?”

“You were transferring me to Project Management.”

“Oh, right. I’ll try it again.” The voice gave Tim the direct phone number, however, before making the transfer.

A moment later a new voice answered “Project Management.”

“Hi, this is Tim Land with FEOD, I’m looking for Romy Stevens.”

“Romy Stevens?” replied the new voice.

“Apparently she’s the Project Manager for the Lincoln Park project.”

“Hold on.” Tim overheard the voice ask, “Rose, is there someone named ‘Romy Stevens’ here?” Someone, apparently ‘Rose’ answered back, “she transferred to St. Louis two months ago.”

The voice replied to Tim, “sir, Romy Stevens doesn’t work here any more.”

“OK,” said Tim. “Is there someone I can talk to about Lincoln Park?”

“Lincoln Park?” Once again Tim heard the voice ask, “Rose, whose job is Lincoln Park.” Rose answered, “that was Romy’s job.” Then, “let me talk to him.”

“Sir,” said Rose. “This is Rose Butera, I’m the chief of Environmental Project Management Section. How can I help you?”

“Well,” said Tim. “This is my first day on the job, and I’m trying to work out the FEOD compliance review for your Lincoln Park project and there doesn’t seem to be anything here on FEOD compliance.”

“FEOD Compliance?” Rose repeated.

“Yes, there’s nothing here in the report.”

“Hold on.” Tim heard Rose say, “Mark, what did you do about Romy’s Lincoln Park project?” He thought he heard Mark reply, “as far as I know, everyone’s replied except FEOD. I sent it back to P&E for a completeness review.” He heard Rose say, “who in P&E has it?” Mark replied, “I gave it to Sy.”

“Sir?” Rose said to Tim.

“Yes, I’m still here.” Tim glanced at his watch, it was three-thirty.

“I’m going to give you to Mark Stone. Hold on.”

“This is Mark Stone,” said a new voice.

“Hi,” said Tim. “I’m Tim Land with FEOD. There’s nothing in the Lincoln Park report about FEOD.”

“Right. We sent the report down to you four months ago.”

“OK, this is my first day on the job here and I’m the first person to have had a chance to look at the report in a long time. But did anyone do anything about FEOD? It says ‘it’s going to be made available when Appendix E is completed.'”

“Hold on.”

Tim waited another full minute until a new voice answered. “P&E, this is Sy.”

“Hello, Tim Land with FEOD,” Tim replied.

“Sy Katz, what can I do for you?”

“Well, I’m looking at the Lincoln Park report, and there’s no FEOD documentation. Is it ready yet?”

“FEOD documentation?” said Sy. “Let me see.” Tim overheard Sy ask, “Gene! Who’s doing Lincoln Park?” Gene replied, “I am.”

“Hold on,” Sy said to Tim.

“Hello, Gene Carrera here. What can I do for you?”

“I’m Tim Land from FEOD. Are you in charge of the Lincoln Park report? There’s no FEOD documentation in it.”

“FEOD?” replied Gene. “OK, let me see… Look, I inherited a lot of projects last week, and Lincoln Park is one of them, so bear with me.”

“OK, but I’ve been through about ten different people…”

“Just give me a minute.”

Tim said, “give me a minute, too. It’s my first day here and I need to get a chair.” He put the phone down and brought his chair over to Georgette’s desk and sat down. It was nearing four PM.

“Tim?” said Gene.

“Yes, I got my chair,” replied Tim.

“OK, I’ve been here about six months, see and I found the Lincoln Park report, but it looks like FEOD wasn’t finished.”

“OK, then you aren’t going to have a project.”

“Hold on,” said Gene. A minute went by. Tim looked at his watch again, it was 4:05.

“Hi, this is Tam Peters.”

“Hello, Tam. I’m Tim.”

“Hi, Tim. Now what’s this about not having a project?”

“There’s no FEOD documentation with the Lincoln Park report.”

“FEOD documentation?” said Tam Peters.

“Yes,” said Tim. “I’m supposed to review your report for FEOD compliance, as you know. There’s nothing there, so my review letter will show that your report is incomplete, and therefore, can’t go further.” Tim’s voice rose with each word.

“Gene,” Tim overheard Tam say. “What this with FEOD?”

“I’ll have to get back with him later, I’m going to lunch.”

“Sir,” said Tam Peters. “Can we get back to you in a couple of hours?”

“No. Tomorrow morning, it’s past four o’clock where I am.”

Tam Peters took Tim’s phone number and gave an assurance that he’d call back first thing in the morning.

Tim thanked him, hung up the phone and went back to his desk. He turned off his computer, took up his jacket and briefcase and went over to Belladanna’s desk.

“Well,” he started. “This was pretty much a failure.”

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“It took about ten different people before I got through to someone who knew what I was talking about, and then the best answer I got was a ‘we’ll get back to you tomorrow morning.’ Is that typical?”

“Sometimes. It gets really bad when someone gets upset at us and they call in a Congressman.”

“What do we do then?”

“Since we have the President on our side, we don’t lose those arguments.”

Tim stared at Belladanna for a moment, and then abruptly said, “the first day was great, all things considered. See you tomorrow!”

On the Metro ride home, he thought about his first day. It wasn’t so bad, he thought. There’s no way he could avoid the bureaucracy in any Government job, and his was nevertheless important enough. And judging by the award certificates and plaques dotting his new office’s walls, the folks at FEOD were successful at what they were supposed to do. Oh, well, it certainly was different from the field. And Washington’s pace was exhilarating after five years in Syracuse.

A couple of hours after he arrived home and had fixed dinner, his wife, looking very pregnant, walked though the door.

“How was your first day, honey?” she asked.

“I think I appreciate the phrase ‘business as usual’ more than I did before.”

“Well, we got a call today, about an hour ago, from one of the C___ offices in California asking if we could prepare an FEOD report by the end of the week under one of our contracts! Isn’t that funny?”

“I didn’t know your firm did environmental work.”

“Well, I don’t, but we just hired some biologists so we could branch out. That’s so funny!”

Tim stared at his watch and said, “I’ve got dinner set up by the TV.”

“Great!” Tim took his wife’s coat and briefcase.

“Tonight’s the night,” he said.

“What’s that?” his wife asked as she sat down at the living room table.

“They’re drawing the Powerball tonight.”

“Did you buy a ticket?”

“I bought ten on the way home.”

“When’s the drawing?”

“In about five minutes. Sit, sit!”

He served dinner, turned on the television set and stared at his Powerball tickets.

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