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Category Archives: Anthropology

A Day in the Life of…

Distilled down to its barest essences, the role of the agency I’ve been describing is fulfilled primarily by its specialists.  These individuals must interview applicants, document their information, and request the necessary data to properly dispose of their cases in a timely and accurate fashion. This is far more difficult than it may seem, but is not nearly as difficult as can be interpreted.  I can offer two analyses of the two leadership groups under which I served as an employee: the first of which could do no right, and the other with the right mentality in place.

Typical Day:

The average day is simple enough, and can vary depending on your job assignment.  Ultimately, you have 8 appointments a day, convening with an applicant every 45 minutes starting at 8:15am an ending at 3:15pm (on average).  There is a certain rhythm with this job and this schedule. A comfort that is built up by the rigid structure that allows for a focused assault on your day as it were.  Because applications are due on the 30th day after the day of application (e.g: an application on 7/1 must be completed by 7/31), it is fairly obvious when you receive your work list for the day of which cases you need to ma (nage by close of business.  One cannot start before 8am and stay after 4:30pm (due to the demands of the job in large offices, it sometimes feels like the 8 hours is not enough to complete all your necessary work – this is not a possibility as some years ago, the State lost a lawsuit against workers that had been doing this).

Best practices means you get the list from your supervisor by 8:00am (they typically arrive between 7:15am-7:30am and stay until 5:30pm-6:00pm – they can do this, as management are not held to the same laws).  First thing’s first, you check your email inbox, your work mailbox, and snag your applications.  If you’re lucky, you can get the daily report on your work list back to your supervisor before your first interview and deny any applications whose applicants failed to comply with the interview process.  Policy states that the interview is a mandated part of the process. Then, you get your first applicant interview of the day screened, meaning you check all available data to which the agency has access (note: THIS DOES NOT MEAN CREDIT CHECKS; THERE ARE NO CREDIT CHECKS NEEDED).  During this screening, you should take the time to examine the previous case actions within the past year by reading the documentation from that time.  If you’re lucky (again), the interview takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes, given you 15 minutes to wrap up your notes and additional time to move on to the next application to repeat the process.  This occurs 8 times a day when interviewing.

During these downtimes, you can check to see if work due that day has had information returned by the applicant to complete their cases and make determinations timely. As bad as this sounds, at some points, you may be rooting for no shows to get cases done or to return telephone calls as you can.   By the time 3:15pm rolls around, hopefully you’re set up and ready to process anything else that must absolutely be done that day and then completing applications that are due on forward dates (this is hard to do especially for certain roles that have similar due days or if you’ve got a lot of applications due on the same day).  If you get the time and have the inclination, read policy.  Reading policy is always key to understanding your role with the agency.

Under previous leadership, I have seen this day turn into interviews until 4:15pm at 30 minute intervals (which is near impossible to do). I have seen “walk-in” reschedule days where applicant were invited to come and wait in the lobby (sheer and utter foolishness) to be seen in the order in which they arrived.  I have had to take my normal 8 appointments and then take 5 more on top of that due to poor scheduling or errors on behalf of the agency (we -have- to correct these because it is the responsibility of the agency to do things right).

Complications:

No matter how hard you work or how well you work, you will always have complications.  An applicant will be not be as forthcoming in an interview and you’ll have to work doubly hard to get the correct information, a very difficult case will present itself when you’re there, a phone call will come in and you will have to respond, &c. There are a million different ways to get sidetracked that are out of your control.  The point is to never be sidetracked by anything you can control (cell phone use, talking, &c) unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is precisely why I listened to so much music at work when I was a specialist, and then this diminished when I became a supervisor so that I could have an open door at all times.

Under previous leadership, specifically my rodeo clown of a supervisor who had never been trained on policy or worked with applicants for benefits, I was given the additional burden of completing supervisory responsibilities.  While this was difficult to complete in addition to my normal responsibilities, it did prepare me for the future.

Typical Week:

String four of these days together and include a day upon which you are given no interviews to work cases down and that is your work week as a benefit specialist.  It can be overwhelming at time as you deal with the typical ebb and flow.  To put the numbers into context, as a specialist, you will begin receiving 32 applicants a week for a total of 128 a month.  These numbers stack up quickly.

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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Accountability, Anthropology, Introduction, Ire

 

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Structure

Perhaps my naive self was not fully prepared to appreciate the sheer monolithic structure of government work.  I don’t believe I ever made a pretense that I was fully capable and/or ready to enter into the structure, but at the same time, it’s stunning how absolutely confined it all is and how positively medieval.  Defined at first by Ganshof as the combination of legal and military customs among the military nobility binding land, lord, and vassals together, feudalism is a problematic term at best.  It evokes a large number of images of a rigidly held power structure devoted to consolidating and holding as much power as possible. This is the angle from which I will make my comparison.

Shape:

Like any good structure, there is a model that imposes structure. From my experience with this job, the power structure is pyramidal.  Obviously, the Governor and the state’s Congress sit above this structure and influence it with their decisions and I am not genuinely not so concerned about that because that is out of the agency’s control.  People elect their representatives, regardless of political agreement or disagreement, and as a state employee, you are bound to follow the laws and regulations they bind to your positions.  Therefore, if the Governor is in our analogy the Royal, then the Congress is the House of Lords & Commons (note: the line is becoming very blurred here in the US on bicameral legislatures and in a small, poor state, those with the most money may not always have the most influence).

The Director of the Agency essentially serves as Royal Governor of the agency.  Political appointed and legislatively approved, this individual’s role is to represent the agency in all realms.  In my time at the agency, I met and interacted with the Director twice.  The first was during supervisor training (to which he was mandated to attend) and the second was a spur of the moment visit to the county office at which I worked.  On both occasions, the Director requested “real talk” about the agency and its goals and how employees were representing the State.  On both occasions, questions were preemptively screened and vetted before getting to the Director.  In other words, very little substance was offered.  While this is not too surprising in general, it speaks volumes that the majority of communication from the Director’s office was in the form of press releases, vetting questions, and media interviews.  The role of the Director from my perspective was mostly PR.  The Director serves from the central office.

Beneath the Director, there are a large number of Divisional Directors.  In such a large agency with so many encompassing programs from the State Hospital to Child Protective services, these Divisional Directors essentially serve as the established lords/ladies.  Each is appointed by the director and requires gubernatorial approval before they take office. You hear very, very little from these people.  In fact, the Director serving for my division retired before I promoted within the agency.  Since that occurred, I do not remember, except when the new Divisional Director was introduced, ever having met, received an email from, or otherwise heard discussion about the new Divisional Director.  This is important – not because silence indicates nothing: silence from a particular position in this level of management means they are genuinely working hard behind the scenes.  Like the Agency Director, they serve in Central Office. The best analogue I have for this position would be a member of the clergy (or the second estate as they were called).

Beneath each Divisional Director, there are a number of Assistant Directors.  In the case of my division, there were many ranging from personnel directors to policy directors, &c.  Again, similar to clergy, the Assistant Directors were the Mouth of the Central Office (for your LotR fans out there) and were far more visible than the two above.  One person in particular demonstrated best practices and powerful leadership qualities that would later come to define how I would attempt to manage my staff.  This Assistant Director was very much visible; however, one could attempt to contact any of them for guidance.  Each had their own support staff as well; for example, the Assistant Director of Policy (for whom a goal is to insure effective communication of new regulations and policies to the entire agency and its staff) has policy writers for all services offers, lawyers for specific projects, &c.  Like the above, all these serve in Central Office.

This represents the top third of the pyramid and effectively documents the structure of the agency’s Central office.  There are more staff obviously and other roles that I’ve not indicated here, but these are the important ones as it relates to the Division with which I worked.  Like most monoliths, the structure holds its highest status individuals in the most centralized location with religious-like attending staff to administer the details.  Central office does not equate to Field office, however, and the continued division of authority and structure is important because this is where it begins affecting all points along the way.

Nulle terre sans seigneur

No land with out a lord; no property without a liege.  Those that have served in the Field Office shall, if they have integrated enough with successful people, be granted land of their own with approval from the sovereign.  This is where the Field Office staff begins being impacted directly.  To manage the need for a large number of Field Offices (one, sometimes two, in each county), the State has divided into a number of geographic and geopolitical (in one case) areas.  A Director runs each area, much like a manorial noble in Britain would centuries ago (except with less killing, death, etc).  They answer to the Assistant Director of the programs (the individual who I described earlier serves in this role and is wonderful at it).  On a day to day basis, it is the Regional Director who’s vision is instituted and who’s dictates matter most.  This position is therefore the most important managerial position for the Field Office: from performance evaluations and other personnel matters to communication regarding policy and regulation of the programs, their stamp is on nearly everything in the fief they have been granted.

Unfortunately, the Regional Director (RD) under whom I served was not a good one: tyrannical and flighty are the easiest descriptors.  The RD’s answer for most problems was to criticize and take power to institute what was perceived as necessary.  The RD has a number of assistants that serve as Data Analysts for the area.  The Data Analysts (DAs) are important in these situations, from my observations.  I noted that when there were DAs that were willing to investigate, provide accurate and concise real world information, and otherwise talk to the Field Offices, the RD would follow their lead.  Being a report driven performance evaluated position, the RD wants numbers to demonstrate strong guidance and compliance with federal goals.  In cases where the DAs aren’t doing this and are pushing to be as favorable to the boss as possible, the RD gets as much leeway as they can and the only person that can hold them accountable is in Central Office and in most cases is over 100 miles away from any Regional Office in the state (the RDs get to designate their own Regional Offices upon assuming the title).

Underneath the RD, each Field Office has a Director whose goals it is to facilitate the services for the county.  The Field Office Director was my guiding light and additional inspiration.  The Director’s job is to supervise and manage personnel and to abet the Field Office to meet Federal goals.  However, each office has a Director, the RD’s vision is implemented by the  Field Office Directors.  When one has a boss that has the ability to control nearly each aspect of your day, then you will find yourself complying with dictates that may absolutely no sense and often don’t have the backing of the clergy from Central Office.

Beneath the Field Office Director are the Field Office Coordinators who handle the day to day policy and regulation compliance with the agency and beneath them you have the Field Office Supervisors (this is as far as I could go).  Then beneath the FOS, you have the specialists that interact with and perform the basic currency duties of the agency.  Note how top heavy this structure is for the state?  There’s nearly 10 levels of management above the specialist position and due to the personalities involved, a typical day can seem like a mine field.

So, what the hell does this all matter?

Ultimately, Central Office decisions affect everyone in the Field Offices; however, they are instituted by the RD.  In my case the RD used ineffectual leaders for committees and other interactions to facilitate creating an environment were they began assuming additional power.  For example, a decision was authorized to have a Field Office Worker serve as an Regional Case Review Specialist (additional oversight, you see).  During the discussion phase, I brought up several questions, but most importantly I asked if we had legislative and directorial approval to do this (each position with the state must stick to its legislatively written job description).  The RD replied that this did not matter and that we could do this however we wanted.  Within three months during the course of a Legislative Audit, it was discovered that this was occurring in our region.  The Auditors told the RD to discontinue this and her manager (who I respect greatly) did the same.  So, then the position was rephrased into a New Worker Training Position.  Her manager found out about this quickly and reminded that regulations in policy dictate that only those with certification can train New Workers.

Before my leaving, another plan was being concocted by the RD.  Field Office management (director, coordinator, and supervisor) are rated on their basest levels against the federal goals.  The FOD and FOC are rated on the entire Field Office statistics, the FOS are rated on the statistics of their individual teams.  If your team are not meeting the federal goals, then you will not get a high rating in that review.  The RD, wishing to increase and coax better performance, wanted to apply this to all county staff, meaning that a worker’s individual accuracy and timeliness did not matter on their performance reviews as they could not ever score higher than the whole county office.  This is a violation of Labor Law, but was in the process of attempted justification when I left.  The impacts, if allowed to go through, would obviously not only be illegal, but would be extraordinarily demoralizing.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Accountability, Anthropology, Politics, Rants

 

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Holy shit… I missed all of 2014 and most of January 2015.

So, here am I back after a near 13 month hiatus, wondering why the hell I didn’t write at all during the previous number of months.  Writing for Cultura is slow, but steady; the Lay of Seidenbard is still slowly (read: very slowly) progressing.  Further, I’m no longer a bureaucrat.  I departed from the steady progress I’d been doing for a number of reasons, all of which I hope to express and discuss further.  I also intend to write a music review a week, offer an update on Cultura/the Lay once per week.  I won’t have much more time than that as I’m moving to start a scientific job within the next week to the east coast.

Like previously, I hope to feature songs and/or a inspirational piece of art once per day (some of Paimona’s newer pieces, if possible).

The section in which I make excuses:

So… why didn’t I write for a damn year and month?  Simple: I was exhausted.  Being more prone to quiet introspection and carrying a generally introverted disposition, my position within the monolithic pyramid could either be performed coldly or spun in a more humanistic way.  Being a metal fan, I decided to rebel against the standard order of business and applied far more supportive techniques; the end result being that I was available and open to my subordinates and their clients as often as I could allow.  The structure does not like this, I noticed, but it won me high praise from my direct managers.  However, the interpersonal interaction that faced the typical day’s work left my nerves and mind to an absolute frazzle (as my very Southern forebears would say).

In the interest of full disclosure as I still maintain a level of anonymity here, my position was as a specialist and later a supervisor at a Department of Human Services (in some states, Social Services) in a small, southern flyover state.  The overall state’s population is unimportant, but suffice to say that it is a poor, historically so, state with poor access to education and a history of segregation.  This office is located in one of the larger counties in the state, exhibiting both very urban (for the state) and rural populations with a far higher degree of diversity than the flyover states are often considered as having.  In the local area, there is a major state run university, a private fundamentalist Christian university, several community colleges, and a number of vo-technical schools.  Major companies in the area are dominated by a global, multibillion US Dollar per year company and its satellite vendor companies, agribusinesses of all types, and transportation.  In other words, there are a lot of people (and goods) coming in and out of the area for a variety of reasons.

The agency itself evokes a snapshot of feudalistic grandeur both (a testament to medieval law and administration).  Many hours travel from the capital city of the flyover state, the county office sits tucked into a curious hinterland – one that is very much part of the state and the other that is very much independent of it at the same time.  This dissonance was astounding.  Previous to the October 2013 threshold (see the link for further information), the role of the specialist within the agency was to interview, document, and dispose (official term for completing) of applications for SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – formerly welfare), and Medicaid (services ranging from children’s programs to medicare assistance).  After ACA began in October 2013 and after the policy writers and managers returned to their jobs, Medicaid became a mostly automated system with applications occurring through the Federal Healthcare Marketplace or the State Healthcare Marketplace.  Hospitals hired specialists away from the agency and governmental contractors did as well, because the positions paid better, offered better hours, and better benefits.  All these are valid reasons for leaving employment, especially after the threshold of fear ramped up due to the governmental shut down.

Returning to the new marketplaces, it became evident early that were a number of issues with the new web-based data hub driven system.  This was explained effectively by a high ranking member as “attempting to build the airplane after we’d all ready taken off.”  Due to the new income thresholds, the number of new available categories for Medicaid eligibility, and a relaxation in some policies, more people than ever were eligible for Medicaid services, ranging from full coverage (very few) to assistance in paying private premiums.  The hiccups in the system and the delay in training made serving the valid questions of these individuals difficult, time consuming, and heart wrenching for both parties involved.

Having become a supervisor a earlier in the same year this unfurled, I came to realize my role as defined by the agency was to review cases of all types for accuracy, ensure timeliness, and to maintain some semblance of order/discipline.  In actuality, the role needed to be redefined. Accountability needed to be shared to all points of the team, transparency needed to rule (where it could, obviously one need not violate the places where it was not allowed), and the staff needed a leader that was available, open, and honest.  The clients needed this more than anything, because the emphasis returned to focus on the barest fact – the currency of the agency’s work is generally the people that we serve and not the statistics that they become when their application is approved or denied.

Personally, 2014 opened with a heartbreak.  Paimona and I had discovered that we were pregnant (we’d been trying for nearly 4 years to have another child).  We miscarried to start the year and I had to center myself to her grief to help her heal from it (you never do, I don’t think… there are times when I still think on it and cry).  Fortunately, we have an awesome, wonderful, scientifically minded big kid with a great attitude, a beautiful smile, and a penchant to give the best hugs for which a dad could ever ask (her team went undefeated in softball! in the Spring)  This, though she was just as heartbroken, was the only way we were able to pull ourselves from it.  My role as a bureaucrat began taking between 45-60 hours per week, my second job began taking 10-20 hours a week, and the rest of it was devoted to family.  This is why it’s such a BIG DEAL that I got a single job, performing science for one company, earning as much as I would working both currently.

These facts combined resulted in the loss of my “ear” as it were for music.  I was too tired, emotionally and mentally, to fully devote my time and energy to that when I had so many other projects going.  Therefore, I had to abandon this dream here, which is something I appreciate when it works well to keep my nose to the grindstone and continue writing.  It makes me think of creativity and the process of it all.

The plan:

Given that this period has now ended, I intend to return to writing a review per week and featuring some of the new promos and other information that I still get as result of my previous writing.  I’m not going to catch up what I missed in 2014, I can’t, but I can continue from where I left.  To heal from my job with DHS, I will be writing a section regarding a particular facet of what the position entailed either each day or three times a week, depending on how much time allows.

Ultimately, I’m left with the question: “Is it such a crime to go apart and be alone?”

 

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Dilapidated Joy

Vincze Miklós of io9 runs one of the better series on their site: Modern Ruins.  Obviously, given that I enjoy the thought of ruins and the taphonomy of such things, I really and truly appreciate this mess.  So, in honor of the stunning collection he’s put together, do it a favor and give it a gander:

Trashed Remains of Abandoned Disney Parks.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Anthropology, Geek, Inspiration, Landscape, Nature

 

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Art History on its Ear: The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting

Wait until the very, very last second.  It’s totally worth it.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Anthropology, Art, Geek, Inspiration

 

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Opinion: “The Animated Life of A.R.Wallace” – NY Times

From the New York Times:

“Although Alfred Russel Wallace made one of the most important scientific discoveries in history, he’s been all but forgotten. A contemporary of Charles Darwin, Wallace was the other guy to discover natural selection – the evolutionary process whereby better adapted organisms are more likely to survive and pass on their traits than less adapted ones. Although two people discovered this theory, evolution by natural selection is virtually synonymous with Darwin. This is partly due to the lasting fame of Darwin’s opus, “On the Origin of Species,” but some argue it is also due to Wallace’s extraordinary modesty – he lauded Darwin’s work and humbly downplayed his own contributions. In 1889 he even wrote a book in support of evolution titled ‘Darwinism.'”

Go watch the video and read the article.

 
 

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Happy Halloween

Mentalist

 

Enjoy your evening!

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Anthropology, Art, Characters, Cultura, Game, Geek

 

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