Maryland Blogger Alliance

Alliance FAQs

Latest MBA Posts

February 24, 2008

The dis-unitary Executive

When people ask me what it's like to work for the federal government, I usually try to disabuse them of some basic stereotypes. Like, for instance, that everyone is incompetent, lazy, and (if you're lucky) corrupt. It's just not true.

I tell them that the lawyers I work with are first class, many of them coming from top law schools, clerkships with well known judges, large law firms, etc. They've chosen to work in government for a variety of reasons, and they're giving up a chance to earn quite a lot more money. (The pay is actually pretty good, especially if you understand you're not working for a profit-making entity, but I realize that a lot of federal lawyers think the pay should be comparable to what the firms are paying. I certainly don't.) Overall, the quality of lawyers I've dealt with is high, and the taxpayers are getting their money's worth.

The support staff, I'll admit, is a mixed bag. We have a lot of capable secretaries, paralegals, and so on, but you'd have to concede there are some who just wouldn't make it in the private sector.

I think I had a conversation with one of those the other day.

I was calling someone at another federal agency that will remain anonymous, and I had the following conversation with the woman who answered the phone:

Woman: Office of the General Counsel. May I help you?

Me: May I speak to [name of person I'm calling], please?

Woman: Who's calling?

Me: [My real name] from the [agency I work for].

Woman: What's your name?

Me (slowly and distinctly): [My real name.] I'm at the [agency I work for].

Woman: Does he know what this is in reference to?

Me: I'm calling him about a Supreme Court case.

Woman: What's the name of the case?

Me: [Name of case.] We haven't spoken about this yet. In fact, I haven't spoken to him in about four years.

Woman: About four years?

Me: Do we have a bad connection? I could call back.

Woman: No, it's just that you were mumbling, or that's what it sounded like. If he's not there, do you want his voice mail?

Me: Yes! [I kept myself from adding the insult I was thinking of.]

This incident really made me wonder. Is there a training program somewhere that teaches people whose jobs involve answering the phone exactly how to fend off calls from callers who are obviously calling about business matters? I mean, it's not as if I were trying to sell someone a life-insurance policy or a magazine subscription.

By the end of the day, the lawyer I left a message for hadn't called me back yet, but I wonder whether he's going to call back and say, "Did you leave a message for me? It was hard to tell because the guy was mumbling."