Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
Amy Handleman – recently fired from the General Services Administration – shared a cup of coffee last week with Howard Bashford – recently fired from the United States Secret Service.
“You know what I’m going to miss most about government service?” Handleman mused. “I’m going to miss the terrific team-building exercises. Nothing inspired me to root out government waste like those conferences.”
“I know what you mean,” said Bashford, “but GSA’s mistake was getting caught shelling out over $800,000 for that little shindig in Las Vegas. It doesn’t take a mind reader to understand that the general public just doesn’t see what a small amount that is, compared to the size of government.
“You know, big government needs big conferences.”
“Well, I certainly get it,” said Handleman. “And I don’t appreciate the ‘mind reader’ crack. Anyway your mistake probably was holding your team building get-together outside the United States. If you’d gone to Vegas the way we did, you’d have had the Senate majority leader sticking up for you.”
“That’s true. Harry Reid would have been a big help,” said Bashford, “but we go where the president goes, so it had to be Cartagena. Besides, we couldn’t afford the … uh … escorts … in Vegas. But in Colombia they were only $47 apiece … I mean, $47 each. The tab came to less than $1,000 – plus food and drink, of course.”
Handleman reached across the table and took Bashford’s hand. “You don’t have to explain to me,” she said. “People simply don’t recognize how hard government employees work and how much their public servants need to unwind.”
“Thanks,” said Bashford. “I don’t want to minimize the pressures of working for the GSA, but think about the tension Secret Service agents have to endure, day in and day out – especially on the presidential protection detail.
“When the president and the first family are involved, there’s simply no relaxing. That’s why our Cartagena bash … uh … team building … took place before the prez arrived. Once he was there, it was going to be all business.
“And it’s bad enough looking after him, but when the kids are around … Well, you know how much ground a couple of tweens can cover, especially on a beach. And when they haul along a bunch of friends, as on that trip to Oaxaca … We were really chasing our tails.”
“Like in Cartagena,” said Handleman archly.
“Now, that’s just mean spirited,” frowned Bashford.
“Sorry,” said Handleman. “I guess I’m a little bitter at the way we were treated, while the chief executive takes 16 vacations in three years and hardly a word is said about it.”
“There has been some sniping,” said Bashford, “like that rude TV interviewer who needled the president about his days off and all the pleasure trips on Air Force One.
“I remember Obama’s response, word for word. He said, ‘I’m raising a family here. When we travel through Secret Service and Air Force One, that’s not my choice. I think most folks understand how hard I work and how hard this administration is working on behalf of the American people.’”
“That’s so inspirational, and it shows how gracefully our president handles criticism,” said Handleman. “At the same time, don’t you think we’re getting a raw deal? I mean, a vacation is a vacation, but team building is actually part of our work. Can people actually think our fun and games are all fun and games?”
“They can, and they do,” said Bashford.
“That’s because they’ve never had to sit through an hour with a motivational speaker,” Handleman lamented. “They’ve never interlocked arms and figured out how to untangle without letting go. They’ve never had to take part in a skit written by their supervisor. They’ve never had to wait – hoping against hope – for the announcement of the Best Colleague award.”
Handleman, extracted a handkerchief from her purse and dabbed her eyes.
“I’m going to miss it,” she said. “Anyway, as soon as my GSA sick leave is used up, I’ll have to start looking hard for a new job.”
“Me too,” said Bashford. “It’s not going to be easy. I talked with the human resources manager at a little company over in Silver Spring, and you’ll never guess what she told me.”
“What?” asked Handleman.
Bashford paused to collect himself, then replied, “She said, ‘We do our team building on the job’! Can you imagine?”
“It’s difficult to see how private enterprise survives,” said Handleman.
She rose to leave, saying, “Got to go. They’re throwing a big farewell party for me back at the GSA.”