The good old days weren't always so good

Tuesday - 7/3/2012, 2:00am EDT

While he's on vacation, Senior Correspondent Mike Causey has turned over his column to a few regular readers to share their thoughts. After all, nobody knows the government better than the folks who work for it...

I started my federal career at the EPA. That's not really true. Being a ROTC cadet was my first introduction to the federal government. And there was the GS-3 Civil Service Commission Examiner (WAE) position I held while in grad school. It was part time and when I finally resigned, all those part-time hours came up to a grand total of 80 days in a pay status. EPA was where I started as a full-time civilian.

Actually it was because I was a veteran and had held a competitive position in the Civil Service that enabled me to get the EPA job. It was some obscure rule, which probably is no more, and it greased the skids for actually starting work. For more than nine months prior to starting work, I was certified as being eligible for positions two grades above my initial job. But that didn't mean much for getting an actual job. I suspect that many readers have similar tales, and those tales span decades.

EPA headquarters was in the Waterside Building at the time. It wasn't built as an office building but as a pair of high-rise apartment towers joined at the bottom by a "mall". The rumor was that the builder couldn't rent it as it was designed, which is why GSA got it "cheap". The rumor also included the notion that the builder was really good friends with someone in high places which made the deal possible (and saved him from bankruptcy). EPA occupied the towers and the upper part of the mall. To connect it all they had to put in some walkways. The floors of the mall didn't line up with the tower floors, so there were some pathways that were circuitous and almost secret. Either you knew about them, or you stumbled upon them accidentally. But if you were looking for them the first time, you probably wouldn't find them.

My first office was far less than 300 square feet. I shared it with two GS-13 attorneys. I was the low graded person in the branch, and also one of two non- attorneys. I learned that some attorneys are actually good people! The room had three desks four chairs and a bookcase. And if someone wanted to close the door, I had to get up. There wasn't enough room to push the chair just out of the way.

That was in the days of the Lexitron Word Processor. There were a few, very few, scattered about. If you needed to "type", you had to wait until one of the machines was free. Secretaries no longer did everyone's typing, so if you needed to get something typed, you had to do it yourself. In that respect, we are right back in the same place. The big difference was we still used paper — lots of it. This was way before the Internet was a regular feature in federal offices, so paper copies were the order of the day.

My second office at EPA was located in the basement of one of the towers. Not only was it located in the "dungeon", it was under the slab where the dumpsters were. So every day, a trash truck would come to empty the dumpsters, sometimes more than once. It never quite sounded like the roof and or ceiling was collapsing, close but not quite. I didn't know it at the time, but there were some good things about the office: It was too small to share, and I had my own phone!

In my next federal job, working for the Corps of Engineers in Germany, there were three to 11 staff people in a room and anywhere from three to five people shared a telephone. We should be grateful for the "benefits" and "comforts" we have now. In one or more respect, they are probably better than some you have had in the past. And those benefits and comforts might not all be part of the package when you move on to that new job. — "Doc" Hank from DOE.


By Jack Moore

Despite the media blitz surrounding the Supreme Court's ruling on the President Barack Obama's healthcare law, 41 percent of respondents surveyed in a new poll were unaware of the court's ruling. Among them, 18 percent of respondents thought the court had not issued a ruling at all, according to the the Kaiser Family Foundation poll.