Gov Careers

By Phil Piemonte

Blog archive

About those sleepy feds ...

OK, so the Washington Post recently reported that the Census Bureau had asked employees at its Suitland, Md., headquarters to stop napping in public areas.

While anti-fed types predictably latched onto the story, the reaction of a lot (maybe most) other folks was: So what? After all, if the employees were napping where the agency said they were napping—in the lobby, cafeteria and so on—most reasonable people would assume these people were on break, and entitled to do with that time what they please.

My own non-fed observations tell me this is the case. Years ago, I had a job that required me to go down to the Agriculture Department to report “lock-up” information (if you don’t know what that is, see the scene about the orange crop forecast in the movie “Trading Places”). 

I had to know the layouts of the USDA reports inside out before I even went to the lock-up room, because at 3 p.m., every reporter in that room was reading numbers into a phone to caffeine-stoked wire editors at the other end who were yelling for specific numbers and transmitting them to commodity traders’ monitors as fast as they could.

To get ready for all this, I would arrive at USDA early, and sit in the cafeteria to review the report layouts in preparation for what sometimes could be an hour or more of frantic page-turning and regurgitation.

The time of day that I generally studied in this cafeteria, between 2:00 p.m. and 3 p.m., is sort of the seventh inning stretch of the workday. So it was not surprising that the people I saw there usually included—in addition to a good number of coffee-drinkers, and post-lunch kitchen staffers wiping tables—a few cat-nappers.

The scene didn’t exactly smack of “sleeping on the job.” As a matter of fact, I never even thought of it again until now, because it never struck me that there was anything wrong with it.

Now if you want to talk about really  “sleeping on the job”…

About five years before my USDA assignment, I had another job—doing a quite different kind of work—cutting gears in a plant that made truck axle parts (those teeth don’t get into those gears by themselves).

There were lots of workers in that plant. Most of them, like me, could not have fallen asleep on the job without losing a finger or an eye in the process. But those who worked as inspectors could. Those are the quality-control guys who sign off on the finished products and the materials that go into them.

There was this one inspector, sort of a goofball, who sometimes would disappear in the afternoon for a half hour or so. He could never be found—not on the factory floor, not in inspection crib where they kept all the micrometers and blueprints, not in the restrooms, nowhere. But page him over the booming public address system, and he would show up a few minutes later.

Well, his secret was finally discovered. Turns out that this guy, who was rail-thin, was scrunching himself into a large, out-of-the-way metal storage cabinet. Once folded up inside, he’d pull the door shut, take a nap, or sometimes even read a magazine by flashlight.

Naturally, once he was found out, he was history.

At this point in the story, one is tempted to make some crack about how they do things in the private sector.

But we’ll leave that part up to you.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Oct 11, 2011 at 12:13 PM


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