Thoughts on the government worker

I’ve lived in DC for just shy of eight and a half years. Before I moved here, I don’t think I heard too much about the lazy government worker (LGW). It’s pretty hard to live in DC, though, without hearing about the evil LGW. Many of my best friends are LGWs.

Kidding. LGWs are the ones who work at the DMV and who don’t fix broken traffic lights and who are the frontline workers at the Social Security Administration. Not my friends. My friends are all attorneys or policy wonks, and of course we’re all dedicated 127% to our jobs.

In my first non-temporary job after law school (I had seven jobs prior to that one; I was a real credit to my alma mater, let me tell you), I was trained to believe in the LGW. More to the point, I was trained that every government employee I encountered was not only lazy, but incompetent. (I still haven’t decided if it is better for an incompetent employee to be lazy or not. The lazy incompetent worker can’t do too much damage, right?)

One agency that I worked with was in a building so old that they didn’t have individual phone lines or voice mail. (They have since moved.) Say I wanted to reach “Sarah.” I’d call, and the following could happen:

  • Sarah would answer the phone.
  • Someone else would answer the phone, and Sarah would be there to take the call.
  • Someone else would answer the phone, take a message (on those pink phone message pads!), put it on Sarah’s desk, and Sarah would call back.
  • Someone else would answer the phone, take a message (on those pink phone message pads!), put it on Sarah’s desk, and Sarah would NOT call back.
  • Someone else would answer the phone, take a message (on those pink phone message pads!), put it on Sarah’s desk, and the message would get lost.
  • Someone else would answer the phone, take a message (on those pink phone message pads!), and the message would get lost.
  • Someone else would answer the phone and not take a message.
  • The phone would ring and ring and ring and no one would answer the phone.

Any guesses on which were the most common results?

There was another agency we worked with regularly whose general counsel screened our calls and never returned our voice mails. We started using *67 (that’s the one that blocks your number, right? it’s been a while since I’ve needed to do this) when we called in hopes that she would pick up the phone.

Why am I sharing all this with you today? Because in my small office, we have a dedicated phone-answerer. Obviously that’s not his job title, but just like the essence of my job is only about 8% of what I do*, phone answering is the essence of this person’s job. And he was out of the office yesterday. I hate when he is out of the office, because phone answering then is shared among the rest of us (excluding the boss).

Judged by phone answering, I’m an LGW. Or worse, an IGW (incompetent government worker). Send me an email and I am happy to help you. Leave me a voice mail (preferably with your email address) and I am happy to help you. Call me? I’m going to resent you.**

I just don’t like the phone. And so when our phone-answerer is out of the office, my co-workers handle more than their share of calls. And I feel guilty about that.

So to all of the people I accused of being LGWs based on your not answering the phone, I apologize.

(But not responding in any way? Not cool, folks, not cool.)

 

*I do all sorts of interesting and important things the other 92% of the time.

**Those of you who both follow me on twitter and know me in real life can vouch for the fact that I am much more competent, thoughtful, and even occasionally funny in writing than speaking.

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