Friday, March 18, 2005

Our third world economy

From the 3/18/2005 LANL NewsBulletin:

Feb. 25, 2005
Our third world economy

In some third world countries, basic goods and services can only be obtained by providing the appropriate bribe. This undermines the integrity of those societies, degrades the work ethic and hides the true cost of doing business.

Increasingly at the Laboratory, basic goods and services can only be obtained by paying an extra surcharge - not so different in some ways from how such third world countries operate. Apparently our recursive taxation system is insufficient to fully obscure the growing cost of doing business. We can more effectively hide our huge overhead from sponsors by invoking service fees for organizations to do their jobs. Dosimeter badges now require a monthly fee, and there are SM-30 delivery charges. There are fees for hiring employees and student. There’s even a new SCIF space charge. Oh, wait, you don’t actually have space in a SCIF? No problem, we can make that a people charge by taxing SCI clearances.

This fee-for-service approach is only going to grow. Can pay toilets and parking meters be far off?

I don’t want to be left behind, so I am hereby announcing my own fees for service as follows:

Preparing any approval form where writing for the justification or business purpose that, “The voices in my head made me do it” works fine: $18.

Preparing any approval form where the cost of preparing the form, obtaining necessary signatures, and filing the document exceeds the cost of the requested action or item by a factor of three: $40.

Preparing any approval form that has no chance of ever being disapproved: $20.

Preparing a conference attendance approval form for a conference with fewer than 30 total attendees so that the Department of Energy can be reassured than no more than 30 Lab personnel will attend: $100.

Reading a slick, glossy, full-color poster on any Lab bulletin board praising a project that is nowhere near complete, and that will probably ultimately fail miserably: $3. When that same poster has a photo of a person or persons standing around doing nothing: $5.

Responding to any panic corrective action, training, or compliance matter that requires me to get a new password: $20.

Each time the LDRD rules and timelines change: 5 cents.

Using any required training or Lab Web site that clearly hasn’t been alpha tested: $50.

Watching live LABNET video where the video bandwidth exceeds the useful information content by six orders of magnitude: $85/hour.

Reading a weekly log of the activities of a senior manager when nothing in there interests me: $10. Reading the same log when nothing in there could possibly interest anybody: $20.

Reading an account of a Lab retreat when the phrase “in full retreat” fails to appear: $10.

Installing software when the installation instructions for PCs exceeds two pages, while those for the Mac say, “Double click on the install icon”: $100.

Anytime I am forced to procure an item from a Just-Somewhere-in-Time (JIT) or other vendor that costs twice as much and takes 10 times longer to arrive than is available on the Internet: $9.

Being told the furniture salesperson (a.k.a. “designer”) who is required for all furniture purposes is there to save the Lab money: $155.

Being told that a rolling plastic lab cart is “furniture”: $3,000.

Reading a Public Affairs spin-doctor press quote that causes me to wince, groan, snicker, or blush, or that makes my stomach hurt: $20.

Providing a copy of this fee schedule: $2. Providing a copy of this fee schedule along with a slick, glossy poster showing me standing around doing nothing: $65.

I conservatively estimate this fee schedule should generate $22 million annually for me. Now, I don’t want to be greedy, so I am more than willing to make 6 percent of this available for LDRD projects. (Submit your proposals in 11 point Atlantis Scrawl font. The first paragraph on each page must be identical to the last paragraph on the previous page, and the proposal should be signed in orange ink by someone who is both forklift certified and a derivative classifier. No proposal will be considered that contains the word “irregardless” because the review committee doesn’t know what that means).

--Roger Johnston

Thanks for a good laugh. You have a point. I think we reduced the overhead 2 % this year. hmmmm.
Roger, this was well worth reading. I kept thinking - when will the "priceless" part come in. It is exactly this bad. Especially the one you did on LDRD...sad, but true.
The LANL slang for this phenomenon is "stealth overhead". It is the management art of concealing overhead costs in program expenses. Stealth overhead has been increasing for years, and its growth has accelerated under Nanos. Examples include charging programs for time spent serving on Lab committees or in training, paying double or triple facility repair costs with the new KSL contract, having to hand carry documents through the bureaucracy for multiple signatures in order to meet program deadlines, having to maintain separate accounting books for your projects because the CFO analysts can't do arithmetic, etc. Of course, the most blatant use of stealth overhead was to charge programs for the Lab shutdown. So far, there is no end in sight to the rapid growth of stealth overhead.
Having to go to HR in TA-3 and "prove" that I am a US citizen after having my clearance renewed 3 times because they lost the original documentation and threatened to put my name on a special list that would go to the Director - $500.
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