Letting the Air Out, Thank Goodness

I was gearing up for a rant about how the sequester, and in particular the furloughs, were sucking all the air from the room, but it was just announced that they will stop at six days, which means just one more week of this nonsense. So that kills the worst part of my rant, thank goodness.

The lesson of the first four-and-a-half-weeks is that scheduling time, especially with more than two people, becomes incredibly more difficult when you lose a day per week if your furlough days aren’t synched up. Any interaction where you need information from someone else, or vice-versa, becomes strained; there is no quick turnaround when key people are absent on random days, and you have your own work you are trying to get done. Work in the lab has slowed considerably because that’s one of the variables, while bureaucratic nonsense seems to be a constant, and when you reduce hours, the constants don’t seem to shrink. This was not a 20% reduction of useful work output — it was more than that. These are probably some of the reasons academic researchers work the long hours: they can, because they are on salary, and the research part of the job is where the extra hours are spent, after teaching and doing all of the bureaucratic overhead.

The people up on top of the food chain, to their credit, have been insistent that nobody sneak in unpaid overtime to compensate. It was recognized that a furlough meant that work would not get done. It seems to me that many were irked by the political narrative that there’s all this fat and bloat in the military, so that the sequester will have no effect on operations, because the fat would be cut. Well, guess again. It’s more that the DoD part of government actually is big-boned, and what looks like fat is more of a system bloat that needs to be restructured, which doesn’t happen simply by starvation.

Here’s a rough example of what I mean: spending money has a huge overhead of paperwork. One of the reasons for this is that government employees need to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars they get, so there are a whole bunch of rules to follow to make sure money is not mishandled. But all of the paperwork and regulations make the process inefficient, which wastes taxpayer dollars. However, nobody is willing to streamline the process, because eventually there will be some misuse of funds (or even just something that has an appearance of impropriety), and too many members of congress, and the general population, will go absolutely apeshit over the revelation. So we spend many dollars in order to safeguard fewer dollars. That’s a systemic problem, and not one that can be solved simply by reducing budget.

But my creeping malaise seems to be somewhat better now that the end of furloughs is in sight, even though the larger sequester problem still exists. I had joined a colleague in meaningless protest by not shaving (anywhere). He started while I was on vacation, so I got a late start, but even the shorter duration doesn’t change the fact that I had one of the worst beards grown by anyone of drinking age. Glad to be rid of the non-goatee portion of it.

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