My Webmaster and I were discussing some of the differences between working in the private sector and the public sector. He works for Southern Tech University while I’ve worked mostly in the private sector. My father, on the other hand, worked in accounting for the Department of Defense, so I’m well aware of the differences in incentives between working for the government and working for a profit-making entity. He’s written a post on his experiences and I’m going to write a post on mine.

Before starting my current job at Soyokaze America, I did work with a temp agency whose only client was the State of Estacado. I only took one job there that lasted a couple of weeks, but in that time I happened to be privy to a whole lot of government waste.

The job involved moving the Child Protective Services (CPS) from one building to another building. The entire move was actually an example of said waste. According to Estacado State Law, the government cannot lease a building for more than two years uninterrupted. While they could invest in buying some property, instead what they do for a number of agencies is have them relocate every two years. This is a very expensive and time-consuming process that really doesn’t serve anyone.

I’m not sure there is enough money in the world that could adequately pay those that are taking the calls for the CPS. They listen to one horror story after another. Unlike social workers, they don’t even get the satisfaction of building a relationship with those calling for help. Instead they file a report and pass it on and likely never hear from them again. As it stands, these folks start at about $25k/yr. It’s good pay for a phone job, but it’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

So our job was to move the phone bank as well as the rest of the agency over to a similarly sized building a few blocks away. This involved moving a whole lot of computer equipment, which is where I came in. My job was to take the computers down, box them up, and then set them up at the new place. Easy enough. It was also to box up the stuff from the warehouse, which is where I really got the education experience.

They had hundreds and hundreds of copies of Microsoft Streets & Maps 2006, all unopened. Sometimes in the private as well as the public sector this sort of thing happens and I would have been understanding of, except that they also had hundreds and hundreds of copies of Microsoft Streets & Maps 2005, all unopened. They had half that many from 2004. Why would they keep buying software that they’re obviously not using? The answer, of course, was that it was in the budget and if they said they didn’t need it, they wouldn’t get it. It seemed to me that if they were worried about expending their budget that money would be better spent on the call-takers, but that fell into a different category and besides the money was clearly marked for that specific software package.

The other oddity involved inventory. I would be hard to fault the state for having so many extra sets of speakers. They come with the computers but rules and regulations prevent the employees from having them on their computers. Fair enough. The only problem with this is that if they get rid of the speakers within two years, the retail cost of the speakers is deducted from their budget even though they really couldn’t buy the computers without them. The idea behind this was to “cut down on waste”, which is a laudible goal but one they are only sporadically concerned with and only, it seems, in the least applicable circumstances.

They they waste warehouse space maintaining speaker inventory that they don’t need. Each box had a date on it. Anything before that date was to be disposed of and anything after that date had to be shipped to the new location, where it would wait for a while and then be disposed of.

You might ask yourself (I know I would be), “What does he mean by ‘disposed of’?”

There is a Goodwill not six blocks from the complex that they were moving out of that they could give it to. They could sell the stuff on eBay. They could raffle them to their employees for a job well done and put the money raised towards an office party or something. Actually, no, they can’t do any of that. Instead they post excess inventory for 90 days and then give it away to anyone that calls dibs. Most of the speakers ended up going to a company that turned around and made a profit selling them boxed and in mint condition. State money was spent helping them load up.

A lot of the other (non-boxed, non-mint) stuff was thrown out. There were monitors galore that were literally left at the curbside. They actually put a sign on it that said “Do not take” so that someone would assume that they were good and would steal them. I myself got away with five sets of 3-part speakers and three laptop satchels.

Good for me, not so good for the State of Estacado and its taxpayers.


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2 Responses to Smoke’em While You Got’em

  1. Peter says:

    Having worked in both the public and private sectors, one difference I’ve noticed is that there’s usually a lot more gossping and office politics going on during the workday in the public sector.

  2. Spungen says:

    I’m not sure there is enough money in the world that could adequately pay those that are taking the calls for the CPS. They listen to one horror story after another. Unlike social workers, they don’t even get the satisfaction of building a relationship with those calling for help. Instead they file a report and pass it on and likely never hear from them again. As it stands, these folks start at about $25k/yr. It’s good pay for a phone job, but it’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

    Will, I think your imagination may be running away with you. 😉 I called CPS once, when there appeared to be a teenage kid living in an empty house to the rear of our old house (the one that got broken into twice). It was annoying and a little sad, but not quite a nightmore.

    Probably most of their calls are from mandated reporters, such as teachers. They see a kid who comes to school in old dirty clothes a lot, or see some bruises, or are told their parents are drunk or fighting each other or, possibly, hitting them. Or, sometimes, angry neighbors or relatives trying to get people in trouble. I see the worst stuff, the minority that actually merits a legal filing. I’ve seen little serious injury. It’s mostly druggy parents, neglect, loud domestic squabbles, and inappropriate discipline of problem children involving yelling and smacking around and belts.

    And, yeah, there’s the sex stuff. Again, very little “nightmare” fodder — because that stuff ends up with the police. Typical scenario (at least in this jurisdiction) is a teenage Latina stepdaughter, with behavior problems and very low test scores and better-treated half-siblings, who claims her Latino stepfather touched her butt and brushed up against her. She wants stepdad out of the house. She tells a relative, who calls the Department. They remove all kids from the home. Unless mom immediately swears she believes daughter and kicks stepdad out of home, the Department will keep all the kids out of the home.

    I’ve lost two of these cases so far, and won one.

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