Dreams of A Diplomat: The Bureaucracy

by Just Juan
1484 views 6 min read

“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status” – Laurence Peter

Here I am…roughly 6-7 weeks away from making my debut in Bogotá. You’d think this would be a very happy time in my life. After all, in this pursuit of the Foreign Service Facility Manager position, I’ve gone from heartbreak to redemption to breaking through the glass ceiling to being just mere weeks away from achieving a dream. I should be over the moon but I’m not. I’m frustrated and I’m tired. The cause: the bureaucracy.

Anybody that knows me knows that I live in a very logical world. I operate in a logical manner. In fact, most would say that I see the world in only black and white. I’m the ultimate rules and regulations guy. It’s what made me so good when I oversaw marquee programs in the Air Force. But just as much as I’m a respecter of the rules—and of the tradition of rules—I’m not afraid to bring forth fresh perspectives when I feel as if they are trash and are in need of a facelift. In this sense, nothing pisses me off more than government bureaucracy.

My experience bureaucracy isn’t new. I dealt with it on divers occasions in the Air Force. I dealt with it during my stint in the Corps of Engineers. And yes, I even dealt with it in the Main Interior Building. I’ve always had a strong dislike for the bureaucracy that slows the wheels of progress and more importantly, efficiency. The bureaucracy that lives within the State Department, especially at this level, is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

In just 8 months, I’ve experienced enough red tape and intentional process blocks to last me the rest of my career…and I feel like I got 25-30 years left in the tank.

THE HUMAN RESOURCES PEOPLE. In the annals of history, nothing will scream bureaucracy more than human resources…particularly, personnel matters. For me, it started when my counselor in the Registrar’s office was either very lazy or very incompetent. With the privilege of having one of the best HR specialists in my work history at DOI, my transfer over to the State was supposed to be quick, easy, and very smooth. It was long, hard, and raggedy as hell. My counselor sucked and she dragged her feet on getting me properly onboarded…so much so that I was officially still on the rolls of the Department of the Interior until yesterday. That’s right, even though I left Interior way back in September, I was still getting earnings and leave statements—blank ones with 0 hours worked, $0 money earned—all because my assigned counselor from the Registrar’s office in the Bureau of Global Talent Management couldn’t send a single piece of paper to my former employer to confirm that I was picked up on the rolls of the Department of State. And it doesn’t stop there with the HR folks. One of the most important people in this pre-arrival to Post phase is the HR technician. This particular person, assigned to me upon official notification of the Bogotá posting, is supposed to ensure all of my paperwork is proper as it relates to official orders and such. You may not have heard it from me first but you heard loudest: those people don’t know what the hell they are doing. When I was going through the whole drama with FACT and getting authorization, they made it a miserable process. First, they stripped me of my exclusive HR tech and replaced her with an f’n email address that went to all HR techs. And they took days—and sometimes a couple of weeks—to answer simple questions about this process. I won’t soon forget everything they and my CDO put me through.

THE CAREER DEVELOPMENT OFFICER. My career development officer—or CDO, as we call them—absolutely sucked. She was assigned to all 12 of us in the 2020-2021 Facility Manager Tradecraft cohort as well as several other specialties of FAST specialists, as in first and second-term specialists. She always liked using that “I have over 200 clients” line when she decided to ghost all of us and stop responding to email inquiries. Though her position as CDO gave her considerable influence over the early stages of my career in the Foreign Service, I believe she actually wanted no parts of it. In fact, from the very start, it seemed like she was checked out on us…something that came to fruition when we found out she was preparing to leave and eventually cast us off on some other person taking up the CDO mantle. I tried to make things easy for her by designing a training schedule that I felt would work best for my development and career progression as an FSFM. She saw it differently and loaded me up in classes that did absolutely not a damn thing for me. She also nearly screwed me with the scheduling of that FACT class in February. When I questioned her choices regarding my training, she gave me this whole dumbass spill about how she had to schedule for the best interests of the Department. I could be wrong but as an FSFM, I would like to think that I know what I need as far as training and how getting what I need is in the best interests of the Department because I’d be a better trained FSFM, which only benefits the Department. I digress, however. As of last week, she’s no longer a problem for me as she did leave as she had been preparing to do so all along. She’s responsible for most of the bureaucracy I’ve labored though.

CWT SATOTRAVEL. Inevitably, I had to figure that Carlson-Wagonlit SatoTravel would inject their inefficiency into this process. And they definitely showed all of their ass in doing so earlier this month. I’m heading to Bogotá, Colombia after I finish Spanish in a few weeks. I’m also taking much-needed annual leave prior to my final departure. You want to guess where my leave locations will be: in Birmingham and in the Atlanta area, where I have family. So basically, after I leave the Foreign Service Institute, I’m going home to unwind for a quick stretch, and then it’s on to South America. Birmingham is a short drive away from Hartsfield-Jackson, which is in the Atlanta area. Believe it or not, there are actually nonstop flights from Atlanta’s piece of crap airport to El Dorado International Airport in La Atenas Suramericana. The conventional wisdom would’ve been to just put me on an ATL-BOG nonstop since I’d already be in the area. CWTSatoTravel didn’t see it that way. They set me and my family up with flights out of Reagan National to El Dorado with a stop in Atlanta. Peep this folks: a stop in Atlanta. Basically, they wanted me to fly from ATL to DCA just to get on a flight at DCA with a stopover in ATL before continuing on to BOG. It didn’t make sense then and it damn sure doesn’t now. I fought with them for 2 days to get my flights adjusted before they finally relented and got me squared away for the ATL-BOG nonstop. What pissed me off most about this is that they tried to have me take that ridiculous flight path just so they could save $55. They were really going to have me buying $500 worth of one-way plane tickets from ATL to DCA just so they could save $55 on a family of 3.

COVID-19. People who are much wiser—and perhaps longer in the tooth—than me always quip about the pride one had in their job. They often talk about how people possessed a certain expertise in whatever it was they did on a day-to-day basis…and this was well before the age of personal computers, mobile phones, and tablet devices. It appears that people read the handbooks, manuals, and best practice guides a lot more back then than they do now. It appears that people genuinely wanted to be good at their jobs. Today, most of the younger workforce doesn’t take as much pride in their craft. They’re usually transient…moving from one place to another. They don’t really take the time to learn the intricacies of the job in front of them. They move in and out…almost like mercenaries. They’ve become lazy. And this was the case before the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re 13 ½ months into this thing and it’s almost like the overwhelming majority of workers don’t know how to do the very things they were paid to do before the country got shut down last spring. This is definitely a thing in the Department of State. On so many occasions, I’ve encountered people who can’t get even the simple stuff resolved. What frustrates me the most is that it’s usually stuff that they were able to complete with ease pre-pandemic. I guess all of this teleworking has negatively impacted one’s ability to simply do their job the right way.

As you can imagine, the bureaucracy irks me more than most things. It’s just a lazy reaction to progress…mucking everything up and all. One day, when I’m a little bit more experienced in Foreign Service culture, I’m going to run for an officer position with the American Foreign Service Association. I can’t stay by and let this bureaucracy eat up others. I have to do something.

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