Monday, January 1, 2007

To Sleep Perchance To Dream

The meeting in the small conference room was hot and low in relative oxygen content as Superintendent Stan Nobright assumed a patient pose. As the team leader he needed to convey to whomever was speaking that he was faithfully listening to what they were saying, while at the same time settling in for some somnolently restful snooze time with his eyes fully opened.

He drowsily began thinking of a favorite subject, his fast approaching retirement, as Jay Everboar, Chief of Resource Management, began to explain an interagency cooperation-planning timetable. The slow reedy whine of his sleep-inducing voice sent Stan into a helpless torpor of weariness. His thoughts drifted off into a pleasant dream…it was the first day after his retirement party; his wife was poolside bringing him a frosty summer cocktail with a brightly colored umbrella sticking out of the straw. Taking a long cool sip he impulsively dove into the water staying under for as long as possible. Finally he made it to the other end of the pool and came up for air.

“Stan, we’re looking for your buy-in on this phase of implementation”, Everboar insistently droned into his face.

Stan shot back, “It has been my understanding that we already were implementing these parallel enhancements.”

He was damn proud of that one; half-asleep he was still smarter than the whole lot of these dim bulbs and much closer to retirement as well. Unhurriedly he returned to his umbrella drink and settled back into the recliner, catching the warm rays of sun on his tanned skin after his little dip in the pool. He could hear the ice cubes in his tall glass tinkling as they slowly melted.

Beau Tom Barrell, Facilities Manager, decided that this would be a good time to go on record as having said something during the meeting. “Has anyone cleared this with the folks at NIFC?” (National Interagency Fire Center)

A numb silence followed this query. No one present wanted to admit that they didn’t know the meaning of this particular acronym. Sylvia Nowerz, meeting secretary, snapped her gum loudly as she transcribed yet another meaningless artifact into the minutes of a conclave already two vacuum packed hours too long.

The late afternoon sun began slanting directly into the meeting room, glaring into the faces of those sitting wedged against the back wall away from the main meeting table. It was as if someone had turned on a bright interrogation lamp, illuminating innocent suspects with no alibi. Stu Grackel, Buildings & Utilities Foreman, stifled a Rip Van Winkle sized yawn and pretending to scratch his arm, gently nudged Roads & Trails Foreman, Lamar Folland awake. Stu had noticed that he was starting to drool.

Everboar continued by emphasizing the urgent need for everyone to get all of their “ducks in a row” when Helva Kurse, Chief Botanical Officer, asked to be recognized. Those still awake stirred in her direction. “We all know that time is short and something needs to be done while the regional office is still giving the thumbs up on the initial phase. I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m sure we’ll need more field comprehensive testing as a catalyst for this emerging process.”

Rudd Conner, Assistant Superintendent, leaned over and said with a smile, “These things take time and we’re on a long list with everyone else. Stan’s going to Washington next month, and this may be something he could bring up when he meets with the Deputy Associate Under-Secretary.”

Everyone looked in the superintendent’s direction.

“Uh…right Stan?”

Stan was still deeply poolside, “Yes, I’d like another cocktail Eleanor, but this time hold the salt.”

Everboar then piped up, “Exactly! Salinity studies still need to be done on the border zones before the folks from DSC (Denver Service Center) can assess the long term impact!”

Beatrice Stern, from Human Resources, craned her neck to see if Stan was still with the living and began talking in his direction. “All of you must realize that we’re struggling to comply with strengthened CTAP (Career Transition Assistance Program) enforcement service wide. Currently the two target populations are Samoan Gulf War veterans with reproductive problems and recently laid-off inspectors from the DSM (Division of Surface Mining). We still haven’t received any guidelines yet on how these hiring registers are going to be set up. It’s utter chaos in the regional office, with no one able to say with any certainty when we’ll be able to resume normal operations. Who knows, it could even block our base funding if non-compliance is found to exist in our program through an OPM (Office of Personnel Management) audit.”

“Why is that?” Helva Kurse asked testily.

“How many of these targeted CTAP candidates do you think actually exist? They're damn tough to come by, but we still have to slow down the process and give them first crack at everything. Word out of Denver is that a major RIF (Reduction in Force) is planned for the Intermountain Support Services office. We’ll probably be asked to absorb them next. It could be quite awhile before the secretary lifts this lid. There is even some discussion in Washington of maybe helping Hurricane Katrina refugees with maintenance and fire jobs this summer.”

Helva exploded “Look here Bea, I have plants to protect from the unyielding course of planetary evolution and you’re talking to me about the need to comply with some WASO mandate!”

Beatrice Stern composed herself and then politely but firmly unleashed, “This service wide initiative is coming down from way higher than that Helva! CTAP goes all the way to the top and I’m here to tell everyone that this particular park WILL hire according to this directive, regardless if anyone we offer a job to is actually qualified or not!”

Helva, self-righteously energized, volleyed back, “I’ve got someone who is volunteering for housing, living on food stamps and about to crack up. I promised this person, 9 months ago, a chance to apply to a GS-3/4 register for career conditional status. What do I say to her now? That a hurricane has blown her career off course? She has a doctorate degree in mushroom fungus analysis and is probably the third or fourth best worker I supervise.”

This last sentence was delivered with a glower towards her unsympathetic boss, J. Everboar and his loyal minion Bill Lord. They stared blankly back.

The Asst. Superintendent sensed that things were getting a little too heated around the table and he quickly tried to calm the waters by offering, “It’s a long time until we’re mandated to leverage existing resources on the administrative end. I suggest that we all wait until the draft impact study is finalized.”

At this point Sylvia reminded superintendent Nobright that his meeting with the Interagency Task Force was less than twenty minutes away. “Thank you for reminding me. If everyone is done I move that we table this discussion until after my retirement..uh…ha-ha..I mean until Rudd gets a look at the finalized drafts of the preliminary impact study.”

Some of the people who had been totally asleep began to stir, attempting to re-animate inert appendages. The gathering emptied slowly. Stan, rising up, smiled around the room, “Good stuff folks. Good stuff.”

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