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Jul. 8th, 2011

I've been reading a little on the cheating in Atlanta on the standardized tests.

There's a whole lot of issue there, and I'd probably have to write a whole series of posts. But it's the people who knew but didn't want to lose their jobs that have my interest today. (And there's another whole post in there about the rock-and-a-hard-place choice they had.) It feels like crap to comply, especially when everyone between you and the boss is going along.

I had to put fake data into a form every week for months because my XO (the second in command--Riker's job, for you Trekkies) insisted. When I took a job working in the 3M Office, one of my duties was to screen all of the work requests for the ship. The work requests were part bean-counting for manhours, although not so much way back then as now. Mostly, folks only wrote a job when they couldn't do something themselves, either because they needed parts or because the job was just beyond them, like making a shelf or replacing the severely rusted foundation on a boiler. (The boiler job really kinda freaked me out at first. I didn't know a whole lot about ships then. I think it would still kinda freak me out now that I do, lol.)

But back to the sea-story. There were about 1500-2000 of these jobs on average, with some always closing out and some always being written, and it was my job to pass along those that were written correctly. There were three other levels before me, so theoretically the jobs would have all of the blocks filled in right before I ever saw them.

Theoretically. And the whole approval process was supposed to take no more than 7 days.

At some point, the big maintenance gods in the sky (at least they were above our CO, and since we eventually got a CO with a god complex then the sky was the only place left to be higher.) decided that maybe the fleet wasn't meeting that target, and that maybe we weren't paying very much attention to this list (called the CSMP) at all. So once a week, my office had to draft a message with some data points. Now it's all done automatically by the software systems that can report the info to the beach even when the ship is underway. Back then, I had to run the report on my green-screened terminal, pick up the tape reel from the data folks when they got around to running it, and hand-carry (or mail) the tape reel to a data center on shore.

Back to the message. One of the data points was how many jobs were older than seven days but still in the queue waiting for approval. When I took over the job, this number was close to 500. The guy I took over for told me to put zero in the block, because that was what the XO (Executive Officer) wanted. And since she approved the message for release (effectively 'signing' it), the message would say what she wanted it to say.

So of course the first time I took her the message, the block said 500-ish. And she said to put in zero. There is quite a bit of space between an E-5 Second Class Petty Officer and a Commander. Or maybe she was a Lieutenant Commander. I don't remember, but the difference really doesn't matter when she's the XO. Disagreement wasn't really an option, so I played good secretary (which is all I was as far as this was concerned) and retyped that section. My Chief listened to me later, but just told me to do what she wanted. (I do not think that this is the sort of Chief I turned out to be.) I was mousy then anyway; officers still kinda terrified me.

I will say right now that the woman was a walking example of everything bad about affirmative action. I was so embarrassed when I saw her meet a group of VIPs once, and she couldn't even manage to wear her uniform correctly.

I figured that she was as crappy in everything else she did, but the ship was big and I didn't move in those circles. When she left and the new XO took over, though, I went to see him with two messages. One with the correct number (which was by then around 15, mostly because I just closed the ones that never got fixed after I sent 'round a little slip of paper telling them how to fix it--this caused isolated incidents of drama later, but one of the Chiefs in the office--alas, not my Chief--backed me up), and one with zero. I asked which set of numbers he wanted to use, and then explained when he asked the obvious question. I remember the tight-lipped weary resignation on his face when he told me that we would use the right numbers; I had the impression that this was just one of many little items that he had to set right.

One can always moralize that those folks in Atlanta should have just quit rather than stay silent, or risked their jobs to speak out, presuming anyone would believe them given the level of cover-up. But there's no honor in defaulting on your financial obligations either. I feel sorry for all of those folks, just like I feel sorry for all of the children who got cheated on their education.

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