Thursday, August 26, 2010


I just had a conversation with a government employee that made my brain bleed, and might possibly cause me to become a Libertarian.

I'm working on a government grant application, which all by itself is enough to cause spontaneous combustion. (Is that an oxymoron--"cause" and "spontaneous"?  Educate me.)  But today I had to call the Housing and Urban Development programmatic information help line--and I use the word "help" so loosely that it might fall right off the page.

My client had been told that a certain percentage should be allocated for salaries, and I wanted to confirm the percentage and clarify whether the salaries should be a certain percentage of the total grant request, or of the total budget?  Simple enough, right?

Except not when you're dealing with a civil servant.  Pardon my cynicism.

First, she referred me to a completely irrelevant section of the RFP, and was reading to me about conflicts of interest and partnerships. "This has nothing to do with my question," I pointed out, but she insisted that it did.  She patiently "explained" it to me, over and over again, as though repetition would make it more relevant.
I think that's "magical thinking," government employee-style.

Finally, something I said got through to her, and she realized that she had been looking at the wrong section of the guidelines.  Phew.  I thought my troubles were over, and that I'd soon have the information I sought.  "Hahaha," laughed God.

The actual relevant section of the guidelines stipulated that we must "indicate what percentage" of our award would be spent on salaries and benefits, and I said, "So what is the percentage you're looking for?"

"We can't give out that information," she bureaucratted.  "It's based on a scale that we don't give out."
"Wait, what?" I protested. "But we will lose points if we don't have the correct percentage!"

"That's right," she agreed.  "If we told people what our scales were, they would always pass the rating factor.  They'd adjust their budget to fit the scale."

I am not even lying.

"But isn't that the point," I argued fecklessly, "for us to complete the application in the most acceptable way possible?  How can we aim for the right percentage if you won't tell us what the percentage is?"
"You just put down what your plan is, and we'll tell you if you got it right," she said.

"You are fucking kidding me!" I almost said, "that is the most ass-backward thing I have ever heard!"

Pardon my French.  But seriously, isn't it just about enough to make you want to vote for Ron Paul?


Smile that smile said...

This belongs in the Reader or the Trib, or something. Too good.

E. Peevie said...

Well, thank you, Smile. You are now officially my new best friend.

J said...

wow. Well, I am sad to admit that I am not surprised. My only minimal experience with grant writing has been quite similar. HFH used to apply for HUD grants for certain programs, and every year it felt like a video game where you hunt for that "invisible brick" that you were just supposed to know was hiding there all along. Ok, lame analogy, but in any case, it really did feel like a wild goose chase to figure out what they wanted. Of COURSE we would change the budget towards their goal numbers if we knew what they were. We have to PRESUME that there is a reason they have those parameters - like, maybe, they have data about what works best or something. But no. That data, if it exists, is best kept hidden. We wouldn't want humanitarian programs to SUCCEED or PROSPER, would we? That would just take all the fun out of it.