Monday, February 19, 2007

Tinker, tailor, soldier, contractor

We've got everyone we need but a couple of history majors--After seven months engaged in actual employment, I’m back (on the streets) freelancing and blogging. I missed you all. I will miss the paychecks.

But, I had an interesting experience in a milieu most people are unaware of: it’s not clear to me why this doesn’t get more attention. After spending the seven months working in northern Virginia (otherwise known as the “Commute from Hell”), I am convinced our government hasn’t a clue what is happening in the world or what to do about it. Instead, it is pouring money at as many people as it can find, hoping some of them will think of something. As one of the people I met described it, the government funding--from Defense, Homeland Security, and the intelligence community--is like being at the end of a fire hose. Come up with anything even vaguely resembling a good idea and the hose turns your way.

I was lucky enough to run around with my little bucket for a while. We got to pay for my daughter’s bat mitzvah and finish the basement. This fiscal phenomenon is the reason the three Virginia counties outside the district have become the richest counties in America. All federal money in unspeakable amounts. Drive around and check the parking lots, the upscale restaurants (try Capri in McLean) , the upscale supermarkets (Balducci’s). In my next life, I’m going to be a BMW dealer in Herndon. The government sponsored-boom has been reported on; what hasn’t is the frantic cause or the amounts.

They measure the money in the billions and that is only the stuff they can tell you about, not what’s in the black budget. We are talking obscene amounts of money pouring into contractors from a government that can’t afford health care for its citizens, or decent treatment for its wounded veterans, or funds for schools that are failing, and is in debt to the Chinese up to its rectum. We’re talking not about the cost of the Iraq war, but about the ancillary expenditures of the War on Terror you know nothing about. Billions, people! And no one seems to be watching.

The place is full of office buildings with no names on them; blank lobby registers; floors that elevators don’t seem to stop at, people hiding ID badges as they leave the buildings; security people rummage through dumpsters to see what other people threw away; secret rooms; there’s a service for shredding classified documents, normal shredders aren’t good enough. [By the way, know how to destroy a CD with classified information on it? Two minutes in a microwave]. It's a whole world most people know nothing about. One joke is that even the waiters at the pizza places need clearances.

From my experience, they are bright, patriotic, dedicated people, all of whom are at the end of the federal hose, and bless them for it. Some of them even do come up with bright ideas from time to time. They work very hard. I’m just dismayed at the notion that if the government knew what the hell it was doing, Reston would still be an interesting housing development and that part of Virginia would return to the obscurity it richly deserves.

And I’m also dismayed that no one is watching. Or seems to care.

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