Departmental Drones Do Davos, Draft Dollarific Document Deal

It’s only a short walk to my office on Constitution Avenue from the Commerce Department, so it was hardly more than a brief bit of exercise in the passably fresh air of Washington in January, but Bixby looked exhausted anyway.
“Tom, the Interagency Working Group on International Economics needs to buy some of your time off the GSA Schedule.”
“Music to my ears, sir.” I replied.  “Sit down, relax, and tell me what I will be expected to do.”
As he took off his overcoat, I continued by making some small talk – I’ve worked for Bixby and Commerce for quite a while, off and on as the occasion required, so it was socially appropriate, in my opinion, but, as I soon learned, a faux pas nevertheless.  “How was Davos?”  In an instant, I knew I had touched a nerve – Bixby went from exhausted to haggard in a heartbeat.
“Davos is why I’m here,” he sighed as he sank into the couch next to my antique Vermont maple credenza.
“Gee whiz,” I said, reaching behind my desk, dipping into the mini-fridge and withdrawing a bottle of San Pellegrino, “from what I’ve seen on the latest Davos Conference, you shouldn’t be looking so down in the mouth.”  I smiled as I poured him a glass.  “Sure, it wasn’t the extravaganza that it’s been in the past, but the Department of Commerce isn’t about movie actors and pop singers, anyway.”
Bixby picked up the glass of mineral water, sipped it morosely and sat back down, staring at the floor, frowning.  “Bono was there.  Claudia Schiffer was there.  But would they autograph my daughter’s picture?  No – they both looked at me as if I was a steaming dog turd,” a catch of humiliation choked his voice, “and refused,” he finally said, gulping the rest of his San Pel.
“A rock musician and a fashion model treating the United States Department of Commerce Acting Deputy Assistant Under Secretary for International Economic Affairs like that?  I can’t imagine why,” I lied, rising from my desk to pour him a refill.  He looked up at me, his eyes starting to brim.  “Tom, I tried to meet Bill Gates – just… just to shake his hand.  I couldn’t even get near him; and one of his security guards pushed me.  He pushed me so hard, I fell backwards into a buffet table and knocked things over.  Gruyere fondue spilled on the Nigerian trade minister’s shoes – he was wearing a pair of those leather loafers with woven tops, and the hot fondue went through the holes, so he got it all over his socks, and he was jumping up and down screaming because it burned his feet.  Then he took his shoes and socks off and threw them at me, yelling in Nigerian, or whatever it is they speak over there.  People laughed, Tom; they laughed at me.”
The situation obviously called for something stronger, so I poured him a generous glass of 30 year Oloroso.  “I’m sure they were laughing with you, not at you,” I lied once more, taking extra care to sound sincere.
Bixby went on, though, quite disconsolate – “And on top of all that, the only autograph I could bring home to my daughter was… John Kerry’s.”
It was clearly time for me to rationalize, so I did. “John Kerry is a senator,” I rationalized, “a former presidential candidate, a noted wit, and an orator of great skill and tact.  When you think about it, he’s a much better role model for your daughter than those other people, anyway.  Besides, on the surface, that whole Davos thing we read about in the media has turned into Sundance for wonks – present company excepted, of course – a vapid three-ring circus that serves merely as a venue to see and be seen.  But it’s people like you, who work while the show ponies play, that make Davos meaningful.  People like you make it important; you make it matter – without people like you, Davos wouldn’t get the world-class publicity that attracts celebrities to it the first place.  Hell, I hear tell that it was you folks in the Working Group, and your colleagues from the other G8 countries, who got the next Doha round started at Davos; and you did it despite the naysayers claiming the Doha talks were dead in the water.”
Bixby had time for a few tastes of that sherry while I was stroking his wounded ego, and as a result, he was reasonably composed again.  “This stuff is really good, Tom,” he observed, holding the Oloroso up to the light.  “It’s hard to believe something can taste so… layered; there are so many components… so many aspects to it.”  He took another draught.  “Yeah, that Doha thing was a home run for Commerce.”
“A grand slam,” I offered.
Bixby smiled.  “And Treasury, too, of course.”  He drained the sherry.  “The whole Interagency Working Group.”
I poured him a tot more, and a bit for myself.  “To the Interagency Working Group on International Economics, then,” I said, toasting an earnest team of public employees who so diligently work in the name of the American people, as do so many others, by promptly arriving at a federal office every weekday morning at six and resolutely cocking up royally until three in the afternoon, with only an hour break for lunch, year after grueling, stultifying year; a small but exemplary part of that multitude of dedicated, if not very effective corps of federal civil servants who surrender their lives to cushy careers of soul crushing futility and who are never, ever, under any circumstances, allowed on the important side of life’s velvet rope, no matter how hard they try to get there “and,” I concluded, “their outstanding accomplishments during their first visit to Davos.”
Bixby’s second glass of Oloroso went bottoms up and the color returned to his cheeks.  Having made that much progress, I decided to try to further cheer his downtrodden spirit.
“The general tone of the conference was very upbeat, thanks again, I’m sure, to the Working Group and all the other groups like it from all over the world who made the trek to Davos.  Improved outlook for interest rates, easing inflation from energy commodities pressures, lowered volatility in equities and lending markets, continued exchange stability – if it was a dull, flat year at Davos, I say dull and flat is good.  Exciting economics is dangerous economics.  We’ve had enough roller coaster rides lately.  I, for one, am delighted nothing particularly unusual happened in Davos this year.”
Bixby shook his head.  “I only wish it were really that dull, Tom.  That’s what I came to see you about.  As you said, this was the first time the Working Group got to attend the Davos conference.  We’d been trying to get sent there for years and we finally succeeded.  But there was a condition put on it by the secretaries of three member agencies – if we want to keep going to Davos, each time we return, we have to deliver a Policy Options White Paper to the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce.  So we have to come up with the very first White Paper, but a couple of things happened while we were in Davos that threw a monkey wrench into the process.”
“You mean those tree huggers who went on about us joining the Kyoto Accords and finally got some of those 900 CEOs who attended to actually listen to them?”
“No,” Bixby sighed, “We have that covered.”
“Certainly not those human rights activists who show up every time, plumping for fair, safe working conditions in the third world factories which make goods exported for sale in US retail outlets?”
“Not them, either, Tom.  We’ve been addressing the trouble they cause American businesses for quite a while.”
Then it hit me.  “It was that bunch of wailing Cassandras who held those meetings on the economic implications of a US attack on Iran, wasn’t it?”
Bixby slowly nodded his head.  “Bingo.  Plus one other thing that wasn’t discussed at Davos, but popped up on the radar while we were there.”
“Not the North American Union?”
“Yep,” Bixby nodded again and gazed longingly at his sherry glass.  I was quick with another refill.
“But it’s a completely preposterous idea,” I opined.  “The economic, technological, educational, political and cultural chasm between Mexico on the one hand, and the United States and Canada on the other, is so staggeringly huge and abysmally deep, that the ultimate outcome of such an endeavor would be like… like Brazil with a space station, a fusion research program, a fleet of atomic submarines and a colony on Mars!  No civilized, postmodern person with any commonly recognized set of Judaeo-Christian moral values could possibly cope with the constant, intense and mercilessly unrelenting cognitive dissonance inherent in the hypocrisy, inequity and social injustice of any political entity such as that; and, as the history of the EU demonstrates, a political union of significant power would follow establishment of any such economic entity.  Furthermore, the promiscuous and unrestrained exploitation of cheap, impoverished labor that would be inevitably and ubiquitously available within such a politico-economic structure, at the hands of materially and technologically superior multi-national capitalist enterprises –  operating without the proper restraint of government, which most certainly will not be available –  would result in a socioeconomic disequilibrium which would make that of the Gilded Age look like a Scandinavian welfare state.  We would all be living in ‘Blade Runner Meets Total Recall,’ – a consummate dystopian society, the very existence of which would destabilize not only the individual psyches of its inhabitants, but the body politic as well.  It couldn’t last more than twenty years before degenerating into an industrial dictatorship that would embarrass Albert Speer and Mao Zedong put together; a situation that would make the ghosts of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley regret the parsimony of their imaginations.  It would be the murder of everything in the United States Constitution.  Until Mexico gets its act together – maybe a century from now, forget about it – there’s no way, Jose.  The North American Union has got to be one of the most totally idiotic, retarded economic proposals since the Smoot-Hawley tariff; nobody in their right mind could possibly favor such a harebrained scheme.  Only a woefully stupid, pathetically ignorant, drooling, moronic cretin…”
Bixby cleared his throat, loudly, and at noticeable length, then sat up quite straight and pointedly looked out the window toward the White House.
“Right,” I said, “when do we start?”
Bixby rose and glanced at his watch.  “In seventeen minutes.  Just enough time for us to walk over to the Treasury building.”

“Figuring out what US financial and trade policies should be if there’s a war with Iran or any kind of trilateral agreement on a North American Union, much less both at once, and then coordinating that policy statement over the Working Group’s eleven participating federal agencies is driving some of our members over the brink.  Four of them called in sick and haven’t been to work since we got back from Davos,” Bixby whispered as we approached the meeting room, our footfalls echoing in the high-ceilinged marble halls, “and another one left the forms for early retirement on his supervisor’s desk, then tripped walking down a staircase to the first floor of State Department HQ over in Foggy Bottom.  He broke his hip; they took him down the street to George Washington Memorial Hospital.”
“G.W. hospital is a filthy dump full of greedy medical entrepreneurs whose dedication to the principle of profit makes them turn a blind eye to the ideals of the Hippocratic Oath.  If you care about that suffering bastard, do your best to get him transferred to Sibley, ASAP.  Otherwise, forget him – he’s gonna die a lingering, painful death from indifferent malpractice,  nosocomial infections or iatrogenic morbidity; the place is rife with all of them,” I advised. 
Bixby slapped me soundly on the back.  “I’ll certainly take that information under advisement.  Damn me to hell if you aren’t one flint-hearted, brass-bottomed son of a bitch, Tom Collins.”
“What else could I be, toiling here in the Belly of the Beast?” I retorted, “and damn me, too, if I don’t take that as a compliment, sir.”  Bixby laughed.  I dare say he needed it.
For a bunch of guys and gals who had quite recently spent a week attending a world-renowned gathering of billionaires and glitterati in a fancy Swiss resort; for a band of brothers and sisters engaged in righteous public service which had just returned, alledgedly triumphant, to Caesar and S.P.Q.R, the members of the Interagency Working Group on International Economics were a remarkably rotten looking assemblage.  The ones who were wracked by insomnia the night before were obvious, their eyes bloodshot, red rimmed and puffy, huge, swollen bags bulging beneath.  I could see that ulcers were acting up, sense the chest pains growing beneath sternums, slowly creeping down arms; and easily notice the nervous tics asserting themselves like a swarm of biting insects, as anxiety picked away at the brains and bodies of that unfortunate crew with clawing needles of pounding, unrelenting stress.  These were not happy campers – no, not at all.
By virtue of everyone else being already seated, and Bixby’s quick reflexes, my seat was at the end of a long, deeply polished, coruscating conference table.  It was located farthest from the door, with three classical style windows overlooking 15th Street glowing in the winter sun like the nave of Notre Dame behind me.
In the real world, as we call it around Washington, that seat is the one where the board chairman, senior partner or business owner sits.  And indeed, when things are going as expected inside the Beltway, that is where the most senior bureaucrat would sit, too. 

Of course, that’s just what they are saying – signifying, in a semiotic manner, a statement that simply cannot, for obvious reasons, ever be actually voiced.  The real world, as well as that unreal world inside the Beltway, each contain such special and peculiar statements.  But it is wise to remember this – the fact that they are special and peculiar statements in no way guarantees such statements are completely true in their exhaustive entirety.  For, while one may regularly rely on the complete veracity of the implicit admissions and pleas in such symbolic statements, the promises implied are most ephemeral, indeed – after all, nobody ever even pronouned the words that comprise them.  So what I needed to do was nail down that wheelbarrow full of money, ensuring that it would not simply disappear after I had fulfilled my end of that bargain which had just been symbolically proposed.  Bixby brought me to this, I reasoned, therefore, let Bixby open; and after it became apparent that I was not about to say the first word, he did.
“Most of you know this gentleman, but for those of you who haven’t been introduced, this is Tom Collins, a consultant who has supported Commerce and Treasury efforts and programs extensively in the past across a number of subject areas.  I’ve briefed him on the issues impacting timely delivery of the annual Davos Policy Options White Paper.  Tom?”
“I’m confident that we can wrap this meeting up within an hour,” I began, feeling a collective wave of relief wash over the room, “provided that I can obtain some information which, I am equally confident, one or more of you has, probably at your fingertips, but surely within easy reach in any case.”
Now I had them thinking – only an hour and this excruciating crisis will be over, only an hour and they can live something approximating a normal life again.  It would be considerably less than an hour, but I wasn’t about to let on to that.  When I got done with them, none would be able to recall, exactly, how long the meeting had been, anyway.
“First,” I inquired, and quite reasonably, as anyone would have to admit, “what is the time frame for delivery of the white paper?  What’s the deadline?  When is it due?”  This was a perfect opening question, because I knew that Davos had just ended.  If this collection of civil service jackanapes were expected to produce it, I knew they had at least eight weeks, probably more like three or four months.
“We’d like the final draft document delivered within thirty-five business days,” Jackanapes #1 piped up.
Oh, sure, I bet Jackanapes #1 would love get his grubby mitts on my final draft of the white paper, and do so nice and early, what I estimated to be one or two months before the Working Group was scheduled to deliver it to their superiors.  This would give him and his cronies ample time to figure out ways to insert their own blathering into it and jockey for position to take credit as contributors.  And that would, in turn, result in them scrambling, mangling and generally ruining its content so badly that their superiors would send it back with nasty comments, after which I, of course, would be blamed for the document’s numerous flaws.  Here, dear reader, is an of example of a bureaucrat’s casual invitation that a contractor sacrifice their reputation on the altar of that bureaucrat’s inept attempts at career advancement.  Should you ever work in federal government consulting, by all means, never accept an offer like that.
“I understand.  But when is it due?” I replied.
Silence then ensued for about forty five seconds.
Finally, Bixby spoke up: “Monday, the fourteenth of May at 1:00 PM Eastern.”
Jackanapes #1 then got very red in the face.
“What existing research, including, but not limited to, computer models, statistical studies and projected trend forecasts is available to us concerning the impacts on international finance, economics, cash flows, commerce or trade, of an armed conflict between the United States and Iran?”
“We have a deliverable from a major consulting firm,” said Jackanapes #2, “prepared six months ago.”  This could have been anything, depending on who did it.  There are two kinds of federal contractors – the honest ones and the whores.  About two-thirds of the federal contractors inside and around the Beltway are whores.  Their company mottoes are sometimes remarkably unabashed about it – “Delight the client,” “Our customers come first,” “Whatever it takes to please,” “Added value through direct service,” and “Flexible performance” are some of the more amusing presumably unintentional double entendres that I have seen.  Contractors like that would eat raw road kill in front of their own children if a GS-7 told them to.  As a matter of fact, they will do anything their clients tell them to do – which is why about two thirds of federal projects produce results that range from just plain bad to completely useless wastes of money.  Such pathetic examples of the human condition constitute my principal competition, and it doesn’t matter if the firm is a world wide brand name, either – two thirds of their employees are whores, too. 
So I asked, “Does the deliverable include any computer models or other automated solution tools?”
“No, it’s a report,” said Jackanapes #2.
“Does the report contain any graphic depictions of the relationships between international economic parameters or their behavior as a function of time after a US attack on Iran or an attack by Iran on the United States?”
“Yes,” Jackanapes #2 replied proudly.  “Over one hundred.”
“Are these graphics two-dimensional representations or three dimensional projections of real number or rational number axes, in which one of the axes represents an independent variable?”
“Are they all clearly labeled with the name of the salient variable parameters, such as “time,” “interest rate,” “petroleum supply,” and so forth?”
“They are.”
“In how many of those graphics are the variable axes marked or delineated with actual numerical values for the salient parameters?”
There was a long pause of about three minutes as Jackanapes #2 retrieved a hard copy of the report from her briefcase and paged through it.  At last, she looked up, her face expressionless and covered with an ashen pallor.
“Ah, well, it does not appear that any of them are.”
One hundred graphs with no numbers on them – obviously the work of whores.  They had produced an analysis even though they couldn’t find any significant amount of real data to perform one.  Why?  Because their client told them to deliver an analysis, and whores will do anything their client says.  “In that case,” I continued, “my assessment is that the deliverable in question would probably be of limited value to any project team I could assemble to prepare the required white paper.”
There was a long pause of about thirty seconds.  Bixby finally started nodding his head in agreement.  Around the table, a slim majority of the others slowly followed suit.
“What existing research, including, but not limited to, computer models, statistical studies and projected trend forecasts is available to us concerning the impacts of the formation of an economic union among Canada, the United States and Mexico on international finance, economics, cash flows, commerce or trade?”
“We have two Working Group reports on that,” Jackanapes #3 chimed in, “one delivered to Treasury and one that went to the State Department.”
“Who prepared those reports?”
There was a long pause of about two minutes as Jackanapes #3 and Jackanapes #4 retrieved copies of the reports and examined them.  Jackanapes #4 scowled across the table at Jackanapes #3, who averted his gaze downward to contemplate the reflections of the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. “It seems that both studies were prepared by the same contractor who prepared the report on Iran conflict impacts,” Jackanapes #3 finally managed.
“I take that to mean,” I pressed on, “that those deliverables likewise contain no actual numerical values in any of the projections or relationships among salient economic and financial parameters?”
“Correct!” Jackanapes #4 ejaculated, angrily shoving his report across the table, where it slid off to land in Jackanapes #3’s lap. 
Now, you bet that got me thinking.  While it’s easy to imagine that hard data on the economics and finance of a US attack on Iran (or vice-versa) are difficult to come by, that’s certainly not the case concerning the economic, financial and trade histories of the United States, Canada and Mexico – there are literally mountains of such data – located, for example, at the US Commerce, Treasury and State Departments.  Here, obviously, was a contractor whose employees were, in addition to being whores, also either incredibly incompetent or, more likely, in my estimation at least, actually spending their days working on other contracts and cross-charging the Working Group tasks, thus providing the Working Group with nothing more than the semblance of the products for which it paid – a nicely bound sheaf of paper with an impressive cover, filled with paragraphs of well composed prose and pretty pictures.  Cross-charging on studies and reports is rampant among the contractor whores in Washington because they know that federal employees are so astoundingly lazy, there is, on average, only a five percent chance that anyone will review the product carefully enough to realize it is essentially meaningless, and a less than 0.01% chance that their client agency will consequently demand a re-write.  As any cop on the beat, anywhere, can readily verify, prostitution, stupidity and theft are often found together, and our little world inside the Beltway is no exception.  But how, I wondered to myself, was this bunch, who were obviously either an organized crime gang masquerading as a federal government contractor business unit, or a bevy of streetwalkers so clueless they can’t even give a hand job and collect for head when it’s pitch dark, so easily getting away with all this – whatever it was?
Then Jackanapes #4 leaned across the table toward Jackanapes #3: “You’re screwing their program manager, aren’t you?”
“It’s not like that,” Jackanapes #3 shot back, “she sincerely admires my commitment to public service.”
Ah, yes – that’s how.
“I don’t see why numbers on the graphs are necessary,” interjected Jackanapes #5.  “I’ve been with the federal government since the first Reagan administration.  We never bothered with numbers on the graphs then, not for eight solid years, and look how successful the United States was.  Then the first Bush administration came along, and we started putting numbers on the graphs – and what happened then?  The  entire US economy went straight down the toilet in a matter of weeks.  Seems to me, on the basis of that evidence, numbers on the graphs are bad for America.  Mr. Collins, in the name of patriotism, if nothing else, can you tell us why you can’t simply go ahead and use the existing materials to prepare the white paper?”
There was the signal I was waiting for – it was time for me to call the silent bluff which had been floating around the conference room since I entered it, and dare them not to hire me.  “I certainly would never to presume to question the accomplishments of any administration,” I replied, carefully choosing my words, “but my usual methodologies employ actual numerical values to derive the projections upon which subsequent policy analysis and recommendations are based.  Of course, I do not mean to suggest that these three deliverables could not be of considerable value in the appropriate context.  Since they were all prepared for this Working Group by the same contractor, perhaps it would be more expedient to request that firm to likewise prepare the white paper, using those deliverables as a source of baseline input.”
A long pause of ninety eight seconds ensued as the attendees shot silent glances around the table and engaged in elaborate displays of body language so intricate, I felt like I was watching the keynote seminar guest panel at a mime convention.  Finally, Bixby broke the ice once more.
“We hosted their team at a meeting here for that purpose yesterday morning,” be stated, speaking just a hair too slowly in order to achieve his desired level of emphasis and implication, “and their program manager enthusiastically accepted exactly that assignment.”  Bixby halted and gazed meaningfully at Jackanapes #3 for a moment, then resumed.  “Just before close of business, however, she called the Working Group liaison contact and informed him that two of the principal project team members had suddenly resigned; and that a third, after leaving work early to attend what she said was an unexpected family emergency, subsequently severely injured her back attempting to open the garage door when she returned home, and would be out on sick leave for at least two weeks.  This morning, I called the program manager in order to discuss assembly of a replacement project team, and was informed that all analysts currently in her firm’s employ are assigned one hundred percent to pre-existing commitments on other federal contracts.  Therefore, she told me, it would be necessary to re-staff the project through a series of new hires, a process estimated to require at least four weeks.”
I watched carefully, and must say that he tried mightily to hold them back, but two large, unmistakable tears ran down the florid cheeks of Jackanapes #3.  No, it was not the prospect of a long term in prison, as it would have been anywhere else; nor even that of unemployment, since nothing short of and act of Congress can fire a federal employee; no, that particular piece of excrement was weeping because this meant that he would be forced to move within GS grade for his next  annual evaluation and, the next year, he would be promoted to an even numbered grade, and afterward forced to move within it for annual salary increase until, someday, he retired.  Other than being placed in a windowless room with nothing to do, that’s the worst punishment federal government employees with college educations ever receive.
So, I thought to myself – some of the whores had gotten such sore business ends from the rough trade their pimp had demanded, they decided to pretend they had the clap or slip out the back door in nothing but their nighties rather than go upstairs and take on that big nasty john who just walked in with a wad of cash and an unusually sadistic grin.  Time to bring it on home, then.  “Under those circumstances, it might be prudent to wait until the project staff is restored,” I observed, “I doubt that I could deliver a final draft of the white paper in less than four weeks.”
That did it.  Jackanapes #6 spoke up. “Mr. Collins, are you prepared to present an outline of your performance approach?”
Yee-hah!  Run up the Jolly Roger, here comes that wheelbarrow full of money! “Upon receipt of a Statement of Work for this task, I will assemble a team of between five and ten highly qualified independent senior consultants with specific expertise in policy analysis, international affairs, political science, finance, econometrics and operations research.  Using their estimates and assessments as a basis for technical approach, task definition and level of effort, I will then prepare a project plan, not to exceed ten pages, which shall include a work breakdown structure suitable for earned value management and an Executive Summary not to exceed one page, for delivery to a designated member of this Working Group within 72 hours.  Upon approval of the project plan, the team will conduct the necessary research, and, on the basis of that research, construct appropriate automated econometric, engineering, financial and resource flow models, using them to obtain quantitative projections for all major financial, macroeconomic and market parameters under four distinct scenarios – War with Iran and North American Union; North American Union and No War with Iran; War with Iran and No North American Union; and, Status Quo.  Within two business days thereafter, and in close cooperation with designated members of this Working Group, the project team will prepare the white paper, including analysis and recommendation sections for each scenario, and deliver it in final draft form for client approval no later than ten business days prior to May fourteenth, 2007.”
In a hypnotic instant, during which nobody else moved a muscle, Bixby whipped an SOW out of his briefcase, drew an impressive Montblanc fountain pen, filled in a few blanks that had been left in the printout, and handed the SOW and pen to me.  I signed.  Inside of five minutes, the meeting was adjourned and I was walking down the steps of the Treasury building on my way back to my office to make some telephone calls.  No, it ain’t easy being an honest federal government consultant, but it works for me.