Friday, May 18, 2007


Part I
I was greeted with a big management shake up when I returned to work on Tuesday (after eight--count 'em--eight weeks of jury duty). The federal government, where I work, has a formal hierarchy. In my department, as in most departments, there are two main types of positions: career and political. The career slots are the civil servants--the long-time, non-partisan (at least at work) staff. They remain constant from administration to administration. Federal departments are part of the executive branch and follow the president's agenda, however, all departments perform regularized functions and having a non-appointed civil service is vital for continuity. All civil servants are also covered by the Hatch Act (we're "Hatched"), which means our political bosses can't use us for campaign work. The politicals are appointed by the president (some more directly than others). They all need some kind of congressional approval but only the highest ranking ones actually get a big ceremony. The rest of them get approved in batches, sometimes at the behest of people lower down than the president.

In my department, the hierarchy goes like this: at the top is the Secretary. Then, the Deputy Secretary. Both politicals. After them are the Assistant Secretaries, all political, each in charge of a different office. Under the Assistant Secretaries are Deputy Assistant Secretaries (DAS's)--a mix of political and career slots. Under the DAS's are Division Directors (all career) and under them are people like me (again, all career). Some divisions have Deputy Directors and some don't. We did (but we don't anymore!).

The management shake-up in my office involved four supervisors, all career staff. My boss (Larry) was a Division Director and he moved to the DAS position (formerly held by Rob) directly above him. TR, who was my Deputy Division Director, moved to the Division Director slot Larry vacated. The old DAS (Rob) moved to a DAS slot in an office parallel to ours (but under the same Assistant Secretary). The DAS he displaced (Ned) became Larry's Assistant DAS. See what happened? Basically, the purpose of all the moving around was to move Ned out of his DAS slot. It wouldn't have been crazy to move TR straight to that slot, but it might have been politically unpalatable. Rob, my old DAS, has been here for over 30 years and no one can question putting him anywhere in our organization. However, he's always worked in this office so it's a little odd to move him elsewhere. Ned, the guy who was essentially demoted, was in a rather high-profile DAS slot. Unfortunately, he's a rather impolitic guy. He's smart, a great researcher and an asset to the Department, but probably never should have been in that job. I like Ned a lot and now he's in my office. We may get to work together more and that would be a good thing.

Here's the interesting part. When I talked to Larry when I first got back, I said, "But isn't Rob going to retire soon?"

Larry said, "Well, maybe not. But I wondered about that too. I thought it might make more sense for TR to take that spot."

"Sure, that would make sense. But if Rob's going to stay for a while, that makes sense too."

"Yes, but I mentioned it to [the Assistant Secretary] and she agreed that if Rob retires, TR would move over there."

And it just hung there. If TR moved out of the Division Director slot, Larry wouldn't assume it again. We'd need a new Division Director. That sure made me think...

Part II
My main worry on returning to work was having TR as my direct supervisor. I couldn't stand the idea of him trying to direct me, to "boss" me. That wouldn't do. However, my fears (at least so far) were unfounded.

One of the first things TR did was call a staff meeting. It's exactly what I would have done in his position. Larry hates meetings and would have staff meetings twice a year or less. When we did have them more often, usually right after bringing on a new person, we'd go around and have each person list their current projects. It could take a long time. I found it a little useful because we all work independently and I often have no clue what other people are doing. But it could make for a long, boring meeting.

At the meeting on Wednesday, TR explained that he wants to have staff meetings once a month and use them to discuss administrative issues and go over things he learned in a recent supervisor training course. We all agreed that was a good idea. We were joking about the sexual harassment module of the training, "So, now you know how to sexually harass people?" Ha ha. TR said, "Now I know who to call if someone reports it to me!" All the time TR was talking, I kept interrupting, making suggestions and generally harassing him--in the mild, friendly way I always do with TR. And one of my co-workers, said, "So, who do you call if you are being harassed by one of your employees?" It was funny and we all laughed but it gave me pause. Who has a problem here? Not TR. It's me. Well, I guess I knew that. But what I didn't understand was that the problem is showing sufficient respect for someone who is my buddy and who I like to harass. My problem may also be that I want to be the boss. Well, the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it, right? So, I think I can manage this just fine. No harassing TR in meetings in front of the rest of the staff. Even I can handle that!

It really does feel good to be back to work and I may even start to enjoy it around here. I'm relieved--I was so worried about having TR as boss--but I think everything is going to be fine.

Grateful for: opportunities.

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