Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bureaucracy Everywhere

I am beyond angry at Aaron's supervisors.

I'm not even sure if it's worth explaining the situation, it's just such a complicated story, especially for anyone who is not involved in the Foreign Service life.

Basically, a year ago our incredibly close friends, Heather and Derek, got engaged and set their wedding date: June 12, 2010.  And they asked me to be a bridesmaid and Aaron to be a groomsman in their wedding.  Of course we accepted, we love them to death and they were in our wedding as well. 

Cut to August 2009.  Aaron is determining the order of his bid list, I am the biggest pregnant woman on the planet.  We (yes, as a "family friendly" organization, I got to go as well... now I'm pretty certain it was just for show) go to meet with his Career Development Officer (CDO) to discuss post possibilities and any concerns and preferences we have.  The CDO is basically his HR supervisor and determines where he'll be posted and his training schedule.  We brought up two very important issues relating to Aaron's yet-to-be-determined training schedule:  the baby I was weeks away from having and the fact that he was wanting to take a few weeks off for that whole situation (which he is allowed by LAW), and our friends' wedding in June. 

At the time of this meeting, his CDO acted as though she was going to be attentive to the baby situation and accommodate him in such a way that he would be able to take a few weeks off when he was born.
He was given Guangzhou, China as his post.
He was immediately put into Chinese language training.  When he asked his language teachers about the possibility of taking off for the birth of his son, his teachers laughed and told him that he'd definitely fall behind and would most likely delay his post arrival date, and that they really recommended he try to miss as few days as possible.  So when the time came for Augie to be born, Aaron took off the entire day that he was born, which was a Monday.  Then he took a half day on the day that we got to take Augie home from the hospital, which was a  Thursday.  Literally, the bare minimum.  He was at work every other day.  Take note of this because the issue will come up later.

In regards to the wedding, during that fateful meeting back in August, she told him not to worry about it now, but that if he was in Consular General (ConGen) Training at the time of the wedding, to try to make up the days he'd miss prior to missing them (ConGen is a 31-day course that teaches him how to do his real job, and doesn't allow you to take vacation leave).
It turns out that Aaron WILL be in ConGen at the time of the wedding.   So Aaron went to talk to the director of the ConGen program about preemptively making up those days.  He said that they DO NOT ALLOW THAT, and would like CDO's to STOP SUGGESTING THAT THEY DO.  He also said that he cannot grant vacation leave for that time.  We would both like for him to be able to take off maybe a half day on Thursday, and then the entire day of Friday before the wedding so that we can actually attend the pre-wedding events that we SHOULD go to considering we are IN the wedding.  Plus we want to be there!  They are our friends, people we rarely see now, and may not see for 2+ years after we go move to China. Aaron asked if there was any way he could get into an earlier ConGen course that would make it easier for him to make it to the pre-wedding events.  The director told him that would be fine, if he was able to pass his language test.  So after kicking ass at his Chinese progress test (which is similar to the language test he has to pass), he decided that he could definitely pass the real language test.  The Chinese teachers agreed, and scheduled him for a test on April 29 so that he could start his ConGen course on April 30.

So everything sounds like it's working out right?  I mean, all the people who would be involved in this whole schedule change seem fine with it, right?
Enter his CDO.
When he contacted his CDO to clear this whole thing with her, she said NO.  He asked WHY?  In her first email she said the reason he could not change his schedule was that there were no seats available in any other ConGen course.  So Aaron looked it up, and it turned out that there were 3 seats available in the course he was looking at.  So she wrote back, saying that the reason he cannot change his schedule was because he needed approval of the language department (basically their word that they felt he could pass the test).  So Aaron told her that they had actually been proactive in scheduling him for a language test and that he could easily get a more formal approval if needed.  So then she wrote back again with two new reasons for why he couldn't change his schedule: 1) that it would waste taxpayer money because it would create "gap" days, days where he's not in training or at post, and 2) that they already accommodated him for one timing issue.

Let's address separately the reasons for why these reasons are ridiculous (especially reason 2!!!!).

Reason 1 is just total BS.  If he has any gap days, he wouldn't be on per-diem, so that wouldn't waste any taxpayer money.  If he has nothing to do to prepare for post, he would be at State working in an office.  Basically, he'd only be getting paid his salary if he was doing something  related to his job.  Otherwise, he'd be taking leave.  In fact, since they won't allow him to change his schedule, he might end up actually wasting taxpayer money since if he misses those days for the wedding, he might have to delay his arrival at post to make up what he misses.

Reason 2 is probably the most infuriating reason thus far.  Aaron was confused by this reason, and replied asking for a clarification on what exactly she was referring to.  She replied, saying that he took more than 2 weeks of paternity leave when I had Augie.  SAY WHAT?  Two weeks?? Yes, that is how much I begged him to take, that is how much we discussed that he'd take before he got his training schedule and before this b put him in CHINESE LANGUAGE TRAINING.  Chinese is arguably the hardest language in the world.  It's definitely among the top four (other 3 being Japanese, Korean, and Arabic).  The reason is arguably the hardest is because it lacks what just about every other language has - a freaking alphabet.  So this woman thinks that she was ACCOMMODATING to both me and him by starting his training into the hardest language in the world a week before his son was born.  On the day that he found out we were moving to China, she actually came up to me and asked me why I looked upset.  The nerve.  I was too nice at the time to tell her "because we're moving to freaking China, and because his training schedule makes it impossible for him to take leave when our son is born!!  Which is the opposite of what we talked about at our meeting!!!"  I would go back in time and tell her now.

SO yea.  She thinks that she accommodated him by putting him in Chinese training starting the week before Augie was born, and she thinks that he actually took 2 weeks off from Chinese training (because what, he's suicidal??).  For one, he most certainly did not take off for two weeks at that time.  As I stated before, he took off for one and a half days.  But also, he is allowed that time BY LAW, so even if he had taken that time, she cannot use that against him!  What gets me, is that on these emails she is saying all this, and HER supervisor is CC'd, and just agreeing with her!

So yea.  Aaron wrote back telling her, once again, how wrong she was.  He got a reply from her supervisor basically saying that he needs to stop emailing.  Didn't even admit to being wrong about the paternity leave thing.  I am just so irate it's not even funny.

So we still don't know when we're getting to our friends' wedding.  But apparently he should have just called in sick after the fact.


  1. Sorry y'all are having these problems. If I can make a suggestion: DON'T stop emailing. Those emails are proof you had conversations about these issues. And if you do have phone conversations, follow up with an email saying what you discussed on the phone.

    I have added a link to you to my blogroll at

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  3. Thanks for the suggestion! He was more or less told to drop the issue completely, though, so I doubt there will be any more conversations about it. But he's definitely saving the emails. At the very least, he (and I) would really appreciate an apology from the CDO about her claims that he took off for 2 weeks paternity leave, and that she was "accommodating" to him for the birth of his son. I mean, I understand, you have to go where they tell you, and sometimes you just don't get what you want. But for her to consider how she set up his schedule as "accommodating" is just ludicrous and offensive to both him and me.

    Tell me that at post it gets better? I've heard being in DC just sucks because of the bureaucratic crap, but that it's usually better at post. I really hope that's true!

    BTW thanks for the add!

  4. You know, it is a bureaucracy. It can be maddening here and at post. But at least at post, the work and life outside work is more fun.

    I did get into an "accommodating" kind of issue when I was at post. My boss got mad that my wife and I both needed to take time off to pack out (because the federal government doesn't consider us married so we BOTH have to sign AND have to have separate shipments...). She said we shouldn't raise the issue with her because she had always treated us like a couple (Hello, we ARE a couple. you want a cookie?) and had let us have R&R together (because you have to or we'd have sued you for discrimination!).

    In A-100, they feed you a big line about how the Department is your family. It's bull. It is a bureaucracy. The thing to learn is that you have to do what is best for you and your family. The bureaucracy will feed itself and find ways to meet its own needs. So you make good friends who help you get your needs met. And you take care of yourself.

    And doing so will not affect your "cooridor reputation." If you are a good person to work with, competent, efficient and NICE, you will have a good cooridor reputation. Pissing off you CDO will not affect it at all.

  5. Wow that is really messed up! I am sorry you had to go through that. Thank you for sharing that with me though, I cannot believe they get away with some of the things they say. What she said to you is so offensive!

    Yea, I have started to figure out that that whole thing about the Department being your family, and about how they try to foster a "Family Friendly" environment is a load of BS. It's kind of sad that it only really took 1 month of him working to realize how much of what they said was BS!

    I'm glad to hear that his argument w/ his CDO probably won't hurt his overall reputation. I actually kind of hope (maybe I'll eat my words in the future) that he will take a position as a CDO because if allowed, I think he'd do it better. But I guess we'll see his options when he gets to that opportunity.