Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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so parks and recreation

So for years I adamantly and totally refused to watch Parks and Recreation because by policy, I don't watch shows about people in public service for any reason, especially comedies. I have yet to see one that wasn't baseline mean.

(Though honestly, dramas are worse.)

Not by design, either; that's what made it frustrating, because public service is absurd. They just didn't get why. It's like someone who wanted to make a good cake but hasn't seen one and only had a list of ingredients and a blurry picture to work from. And they didn't know how to bake but had once heard their mom talk about an oven and though she meant the microwave type.

So imagine my shock when I was in Netflix and flipped it on for background noise and then accidentally six of seven seasons. Truthfully, I can't tell you what this did differently except maybe everything?

Here's a secret about those in the public sector: one third of the regulations and red tape and weird ass rules we think are absurd.

(Example: governor's office mandates we get at random, like 'no color copying'. Okay, save money, but: this was something of a problem when copying power point presentations with graphs that require color to see anything. Absurd? Yes, but wait for it.

This warning appeared on no copier that could do color, because the only people that had color copiers were 1.) not employed by the state and so weren't affected by the rule, 2.) directors, assistant directors, or office managers, who also weren't subject to this rule. So for some amount of time, all the black and white copiers had a 'don't print color' on them and baffled the fuck out of everyone.)

One third we think are absurd but also know they exist because something so egregiously stupid (and probably illegal with attached lawsuit) happened at some point in the past that literally required it exists.

Example(s): a startling number of people running small businesses from their cubicles during office hours, a few phone sex operators operating from their work phones (In. Cubicles), a middle level bureaucrat ran a thriving prostitution ring from his office, etc.

One third we have no idea are absurd and are seriously offended you think it is because we lived through the bullshit that's the reason it exists and that is not happening again.

Example: The rule: a clerk creates the application number; the worker works the case but has no access to application number creation; in cases of one time TANF, the worker has to take it to supervisor--who cannot work a case, by the way--to read and approve, then the worker have to take it back, re-run the entire case, and then dispose it.

This takes fucking forever. We have forty-five days to approve/deny a TANF. A One Time TANF takes all of that.

Why? Decades ago, there were several instances of fraud when someone with the ability to dispose cases could also create application numbers. So the process was split; application numbers were clerical; deciding cases was worker who approved/denied and disposed.

But that last part, the part with the supervisor and TANF?

Thirteenish years ago, four caseworkers were discovered to have created imaginary cases and short version, got roughly $5000-$7000 in one time TANF benefits for fake cases before they were caught How did this happen? One still had clerical permissions as well as worker permissions from when she was a clerk and could create those all-important AppReg to get the application numbers. So we added another layer of bureaucracy to a nightmare because they stopped being anal about that rule about dual permissions.

Question any three people in the same office in any part of the public sector, they will all have different things in each of those categories. And each of them will give a different percentage for each category.

The first rule of comedy is know what to make fun of, and instead of stopping with 'what a stupid rule and stupid people for following it' they realize something even stupider required it and now people have to actually do this. They may not even know why, but they're rightly frightened of finding out after being called into someone's office with the words "assistant director of" on the door (director has no time for this bullshit).

Also a factor: people who genuinely enjoy their jobs and try to do them and what the job entails, how navigating bureaucracy is an actual skillset and eventually becomes reflex to the point you're instinctively suspicious when anything is easy (it is never just one form, come on), how to weaponize passive-aggressiveness to get shit done, and most importantly, nine-tenths of the time, you win by being the last one standing, having literally exhausted everyone else into giving up.

And you do it smilingly, politely, enthusiastically, like you just got out of bed and shot up some speed with your coffee and don't know the meaning of the word tired. I can back down half the people arguing with me just by looking excited and happy because that means I'm committed as fuck to doing it and they aren't nearly as committed to stopping me and even less committed to actually caring either way.

One fourth, all it takes is me planning ahead and wearing heels to work. I'm five-ten; when I wear my four inch, you'd be amazed how often people just really don't like arguing up at someone or give up when they start getting a crick in their neck and realize I prepared more handouts for everyone.

In other words, two thirds of Leslie's tactics involved me going "Go girl" and "Yeah, try that first, but--oh, good yeah, that's even better, it always shuts them up" because yeah, I know them. I use them. One third, I took notes, because you never stop learning in bureaucracy. Like I can't speak to the realism of the literal situations, but the process of working inside weird-ass bureaucracy with people Who Do Not Understand Your Vision For Public Service? Yes.

Personal Note: The story of the TANF workers above? This actually ended up super-personal.

A few months before the Great TANF Scandal, I'd been promoted to caseworker from front desk clerk and had just finished my two month training. When I got back to my office, I discovered when I logged in that my clerical permissions hadn't been removed. I told my supervisor, and as we were (always) short-staffed and I was very good at my job, she told me keep them and help out the front desk during my slow period of learning, when my caseload was two a day with my mentor observing while I learned the practicalities of the job. So I did the application numbers for the whole office (in between sneaking extra cases from the front desk and signing all the Medicaid cards for the clerks and watching the front desk while they went on breaks and creating information sheets for my clients on how to find more resources and help and job openings with the state and drafting initiative for office morale....)

(...I was Leslie, yeah. Still am, just with tech.)

The reason I still had my clerical permissions, however, was for the same reason as those workers; whoever was supposed to remove them when they gave me worker permissions didn't and the person who was supposed to approve the change didn't double check before approving. The reason those workers were caught? Random chance: someone noticed the person who did the AppReg was the same person who disposed the case. They knew the rule, decided to be a little anal, and do a quick check before contacting the supervisor or PM to tell them to fix the permissions. Except--and this is second-hand and years ago, so I'm going by memory--a search showed this person was showing up in other approved One Time TANF cases in a fairly small time frame as the person who created the Application number.

Context: not many people apply for OTTANF, only a quarter to maybe a third actually qualify for it (it is very strict), only half of those decide to get it. One person being associated with that many in that short a time, in two capacities in at least one case, really stretched the odds. That many approved OTTANF cases among four people in the same office and the same unit in a month went to 'wtf'.

Specific context; when I finished my TANF training, I was given all the cases that involved TANF (that were always fucking applications), and I approved four in one year. My unit? Averaged ten to twelve a year.

After this went down, I was in my supervisor office wanting to know how to handle this, because I was terrified I'd screwed my clients and they'd be investigated and lose their benefits because my name was the one that created the application number and worked the case and I'd go to jail or something. I showed her--God, poor woman--all my documentation stated in the first line I had created the application number with permission and my mentor's sign off and who do I call to send my entire case history to and an essay on how I didn't commit fraud????.

(Note: I hadn't even been trained for TANF yet. I hadn't even seen a TANF case; I had no ability to dispose TANF cases. All my cases were reviewed by two people since I was still new. I was a little paranoid.)

Long story short: my supervisor looked blank, told me to go away (but nicely) and later, I was called in and asked if I wanted to keep my clerical permissions and that she'd gotten special permission and breathe. As long as I had them, she continued sternly, I'd have to continue doing what I was doing even when I had a full case load; I couldn't just do my friends or my unit, or a special request once in a while, or anything that looked like I was being selective and make people wonder why.

Short version:
Her: So you'll do regular casework plus a lot of extra work--right now, I can't even tell you how I'm going to use this but I have ideas, by the way--and are okay with that for the forseeable future? This will be documented.
Her: This is really happening, isn't it?
Me, walking down the hallway: *hears cackling and has no idea why*

(Which is how it happened that when I was at a full caseload, I was assigned only applications, not redeterminations, was the first call for same day emergency benefits (aka applications), and at regular intervals, a pile--A PILE--of Children's Medicaid Applications from other regions were dropped on my desk to AppReg, work, verify, and dispose in between my regular scheduled and same-day appointments. I was literally a one-person office inside the understaffed office of a major city with medium-high turnover; the only thing I needed from anyone else was my supervisor to review my One Time TANFs like everyone else in the state, but otherwise, wheeee. Yeah, I walked into that one.)

However, most people who had dual permissions lost them immediately, and they did an audit to make sure there weren't any superusers accidentally created somewhere and there was an investigation. New rules were set in place, including assuring every One Time TANF case had been reviewed by a supervisor or Worker IV with supervisor permissions. And the person who reviewed the case was unable to dispose the case.

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Tags: jenn's life, work
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