Saturday, March 31, 2007

Memo from Washington: Don't Shut the Door!

Those seeking illumination on the workings of the federal government are urged to read the current issue of the periodical Government Security. Let's put it this way. I sincerely hope Osama bin Laden is not a subscriber. If he is, we're screwed.

By and large, Government Security is sort of a cross between Car and Driver and the Sharper Image catalog for cops and bureaucrats in the security field. Most of the magazine is devoted to spiffy new gadgets produced by corporations whom I'm sure you'll be surprised to learn have the last two pages of the issue all to themselves for free ads for said gadgets.

So far, so good. Then there are the articles. These, believe it or not, are pretty much on the level. For example, the lead story was on the $1 billion increase in the Bush administration Homeland Security budget for technology upgrades. This, of course, was a Very Good Thing. The author and magazine did have the integrity to point out the bulk of the $1 billion increase would go to the Secure Border Initiative Network a/ka/ the virtual border fence that every American over five knows is a useless boondoggle that'll make the anti-missle defense program look good by comparison.

The real gem in Government Security was well-disguised with pictures of gadgets, charts, and technical acronyms. Readers who push through the clutter are rewarded with bellylaughs.

The General Services Administration basically buys all federal office supplies and runs its buildings. In the interests of security, the GSA has upgraded the plastic swipe cards by which employees can access to the buildings where they work and secure floors therein. The spiffy new cards are individually coded. They have the workers' picture, security clearance if any, civil service level, how they take their coffeee, the whole schmear. They were expensive, but as old swipe cards expire and employees begin using their new ones, the improvements in security, efficiency, and the reduced need for human guards will justify the purchase.

Or maybe not. There's a problem. The scanning devices at each and every federal building can't handle the increaaed amount of digital information on the cards. They shut down. Replacing them is unbelievably expensive even by government standards, and in any case, cannot be accomplished before the new cards replace the old ones.

So, either the government is going to be forced to hire a guard for every door on its property, or we'll have the largest demonstration in the history of Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands of civil servants milling about the National Mall, unable to get to work.

"Let me in dammit! I'm Chief Justice Roberts, I tell you!"

The GSA is the agency run by that nice Laurita Doan woman whose short-term memory loss was so pronounced when she testified before Congress last week. It's to be expected someone coping with such a serious disability might make a teeny mistake in purchasing.

The Government Security article closed with a memorable sentence: "Chaos is feared imminent." Come to think of it, that sentence would make a dandy standing headline on all news of George W. Bush's second term.


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