The Maryland Public Policy Institute
Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on the author’s experience with rank-and-file government employment. The author has asked to remain anonymous. The next part will be published in two weeks.
Orientation was a multi-day affair, consisting of hour-long talks and presentations on a number of necessary—and some not so necessary—minutiae. On the necessary side, there were the issues of physical security, obtaining ID badges, and learning about how to handle confidential information. While temporary employees aren’t eligible for health or pension benefits, they are eligible for the same transit benefits available to permanent federal workers in the DC area. For me, this meant that my employer would pay for $125 worth of my Metro fare every month. Unlike some places, that benefit is not a pre-tax paycheck deduction – it’s paid for outright by the agency. That works out to a $1500 benefit annually. This amount was recently reduced from about $230 a month due to Congressional inaction, and inspired complaints from a number of quarters—beneficiaries of the benefit, of course, but also the administration of various public transit agencies who rely on the transit subsidy to fund a portion of their operating expenses.
As for the not-so-necessary side, we were treated to a presentation by the agency union representatives, who informed us that unionized employees have the right to a union representative at every meeting with their supervisor. I suspect that few of the interns present (who accounted for more than 90% of the audience) were interested in having union dues withheld from their paychecks.
After orientation ended, we were turned loose at a rather inopportune time: 11:30 AM. I naively began hunting for my supervisor, but since it was around lunch, had no luck finding anyone. Core hours—the hours during which everyone must be in the office, unless they have the day off or are telecommuting—run from 9:30 to 11, and 1:30 to 3:30. This means it’s often pointless to try and find or call people during the intervening period. And since so many people work alternative schedules, it’s usually tough to schedule meetings on Fridays as well.
On the other hand, fewer people around means more time to yourself to get work done. The only problem was, I didn’t have much to do. I spent my first week or so performing glorified data entry—not exactly the kind of task I was expecting given the math requirements for the position. Between stints of work, I went to additional training sessions, met my coworkers, and generally observed my new environment. It would be two weeks before the ID badge I was given actually allowed me to access the floor where my desk was located. Up until that point, I had to rely on luck in the elevator, or call up to a coworker to come get me.
By the end of the first week, though, I wanted to quit. The work was terribly boring, and when I asked for more, there wasn’t any. There was no sense of urgency, or, from my perspective, even purpose. I broke up the days with training sessions, online classes, and meetings, which thankfully were frequent. So frequent, in fact, that I wondered how the full time employees managed to have much time for their own work.
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