I work for a USAID subcontractor. You might call them a “Beltway Bandit,” but we’re a bandit that does good stuff for people in need, really we are. ANYWAY. My job demands meticulousness and efficiency rather than creativity and judgment, and every summer it’s horrible and disgusting. This summer it’s worse than usual. So I’ve been overwhelmed and preoccupied with how to keep up with my workload, as well as finishing a new book and buying a house, so that may explain some of why I’ve been such a lazy blogger. Anyway, I was feeling especially angry and indignant about what I’m forced to do at work today (angry with good reason, I promise), and I got to thinking about what might be done to avoid this situation with other subcontractors and their grunt-work employees.
(My hands and feet are overloaded, but my brain still has room to play around.)
The problem right now is that my employer is being audited by the Inspector General. I can say that without giving away any sensitive information, as there are plenty of companies that have to answer to the paper-pushers at USAID. I’m not telling you who my employer is, but we’re being audited. Not that we have anything to worry about. The fine people from the IG’s office have not found anything amiss with my employer’s records, and they will not find anything amiss, because we are perfectly ethical, transparent and in control of our shit. I’m speaking from experience. I work my ass off, my supervisors work their asses off partly by riding my ass, and our records are immaculate. We have a financial audit (read: not coming from USAID) every year, and we fucking nail it every time. We fucking nail it every time because we work like a damn beehive in which I comprise the lower 60% of the worker bees.
In case it isn’t obvious already, I’m in the Accounting department. This is still not sensitive information.
Now, there is a reason for the IG at USAID to be poking around in our shit, but it’s not in anything the DC office has done wrong, and their poking-around has gone on for a few months now due to the Fed’s inertia, disorganization and refusal to admit their questions have been answered. Their taking so long is fucking up my work schedule. You know how I said above that the summer is horrible and disgusting every year? There’s a great deal of work that I have to do every summer, it has to be done at that time of year and no later, and I can’t do it right now because our responsibilities in complying with the audit are in conflict with our responsibilities in dealing with the end of the fiscal year.
(If you work in Accounting, Finance or Procurement, you probably know what “fiscal year” means and why it is important. Otherwise, just take my word that I have a lot of crap going on at the day job.)
So I’m at work, pulled in three directions, backed up against a figurative wall, and feeling all pissed off and screwed over because the audit is taking such a fucking long time and I have other shit I need to do. I just hate everyone and everything because I have to do all this heavy lifting and nobody ever listens to me. There are some questions that one might ask in this situation: Surely, the Fed is aware of when their fiscal year ends (I promise you this is relevant) and that many of their subcontractors work on the same schedule, and so an audit during the summer is REALLY, REALLY BAD. Then I hear the inner Dolores Jane Umbridge come up and remind us that they can’t reschedule their audits to suit the subcontractor’s convenience, as that would sort of defeat the purpose of auditing. Someone reports a problem, they have to deal with it, and if that makes some things harder for the Beltway Bandits, then we should’ve thought about that before we let our field offices fudge their financial records. Okay, the timing can’t be helped. In our case, though, it’s not just a matter of inconvenient timing, because this business started MONTHS ago. It shouldn’t still be going on, but it’s taking this long because reasons, which aren’t really anyone’s fault, but which nonetheless should not be my department’s problem, but it is most emphatically our problem because the auditor in this case doesn’t know when to admit that she’s seen enough.
Then I wondered: surely the Feds can put a cap on how long an audit can go on? There’s supposed to be a cap on what they’re doing at my workplace (and we’re about to reach the limit), but I’m actually not quite clear on whether the cap means the audit has to conclude, or whether that particular IG employee has to hand over the reins. There’s so much garbage going on, I’ve given up being optimistic that they’ll let us get on with our lives early enough to salvage our usual work schedule. (Yeah, this is what’s been occupying my mind lately. My job sucks that hard.) But actually, no, I can’t really expect time limits, either, with something as big, cumbersome and powerful as the U.S. Government. Especially with an agency that deals with foreign policy. I don’t want the government to sacrifice transparency on the altar of convenience, especially where HIV-infected people in the global South are concerned.
(You still will not be able to figure out my employer based on that information.)
Whenever an audit happens, it has to take as long as it takes. Anything else, and we get corruption and wastefulness, which just brings more embarrassment down the line, so, okay, we just have to let the IG people do whatever the fuck it is they need to do before they can finally hand in their paperwork and call it a day. So, now I think I’ve figured it out. The government can pass a law, just a little law that most people don’t need to hear about, that says an IG audit can take as long as it needs, but it SHOULD preferably conclude in XX days. If it takes longer than the preferred amount of time, and the subcontractor in question ultimately demonstrates that it hasn’t done anything wrong, then the government has to pay the trench-level employees (read: me and my co-workers, doing the grunt work to feed the Audit Beast and clean up its puke) restitution for the stress we’ve had to endure in complying with the audit’s requirements. That gives the government a positive incentive to get their shit done in a reasonable amount of time, but doesn’t force them to cut off their hunting expeditions prematurely. It compensates the subcontractor employees who’ve had to work their asses off to prove they haven’t done anything wrong, but it doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility to do their jobs. I think that if the government can spend literally trillions of dollars on the expenses associated with an unnecessary invasion of a Middle Eastern country (and I do not even have the spoons to form an opinion on what’s happening in Israel/Gaza right now), then it can give us domestic subcontractor grunts a little something for our troubles so that we don’t complain too hard about the IG people forcing us to jump through endless hoops.
Let’s not talk about specific amounts for restitution. If I were paid adequately for my troubles, it would be more than sufficient to pay off the mortgage on the little bitty townhouse I’m purchasing. Not much more than that.
I’ve been working really hard this summer. I am frustrated and exhausted because somebody else made an oopsie.