Friday, July 9, 2010

Double Whammy

I am frustrated. Frustrated and annoyed. Frustrated, annoyed and feeling helpless. There are two projects/issues/things that we’re dealing with today that have just about sent me over the edge. We’ve tried to do the right thing with both issues, asked for help, submitted emails, made phone calls, and I still feel like we got totally punked on both of them. And neither one alone would have gotten to me so badly, but the two of them together, one on top of the other have left me feeling like beating my head against a brick wall might just be less painful.

In order to gain compliance with federal regulations on spending taxpayer money, the Coast Guard and DHS have taken very aggressive steps to ensure every cent is accounted for and not misused. With the new regulations, we have two weeks to verify and certify credit card purchases made by the ship’s card holders in a process online before our accounts are disabled. And if even one card is not verified/certified within the given timeframe, all cards for that unit are disabled. Normally, this is totally do-able, even for an underway or otherwise operational unit. Ships that don’t have internet connectivity underway usually pull in and have a shoretie connection at some point during the two-week period, and there’s a tprocess in place to verify/certify hard copies as well.

But somehow, through what I can only call a conflagration of events, we were not able to verify and certify all our credit card purchases for June. Some of those events include: XO’s computer profile too more than three weeks to get moved from his previous ship, which was underway, to our ship, which was also underway for some of that time; XO went to PCO/PXO school after his report date (not so much a “pipeline” school) and was physically gone from the unit for two weeks; card holders’ PCA (Purchase Card Application) accounts were disabled and despite numerous emails to the helpdesk, were unable to be reactivated in time; and oh yeah, we were underway for more than 270 hours during the critical two-week period.

We didn’t find out our credit cards were disabled until yesterday evening. We sent FS2 Greg Loya (newly reported from CGC POLAR SEA) and ET2 Konyha in by small boat to do some grocery shopping while the stores were still open and we were finishing up some night-time training. They were going to meet us on the pier with stores so we’d be all full up on food in case we got recalled. So there they were, at the NEX with $800 worth of groceries on the counter and the card didn’t work.

Start pulling hair out…now.

Thankfully the folks at the NEX were very understanding (apparently, not the first time this has happened to them) and just put our stuff to the side so we could pick it up in the morning once we figured out how to pay for it. And the first thing this morning, XO and BM1 North went over to BSU Supply to figure out how to fix the mess with the credit cards. SCKS Lindsay was very helpful in getting a few ancillary issues straightened out, and tried to get our cards reactivated. Unfortunately, the only way to get the cards reactivated is to go through and make sure the previous purchases were verified and certified. There was about a five minute period while we were all in SKCS’s office when FINCEN’s website was down and we couldn’t even access the program for verifying and certifying. I felt like we were in a black-hole of hopelessness for those five minutes…we couldn’t use our cards until they were verified/certified, but we couldn’t verify/certify the cards because the website was down.

Keep pulling out hair until completely bald.

The website was only down for a few minutes, and XO and BM1 North are down below busily verifying and certifying as I type. Unfortunately some of the receipts are back at the office…and we are not. We’ll get there.

The other happenstance that has me frustrated today has to do with an Inspection we went through in December. My understanding of the process of Inspections is as follows:
--Inspection is scheduled, usually with a pretty good lead time, about 6-8 weeks.
--Unit reviews checklist associated with Inspection prior to arrival of Inspection Team, so that the command has some idea of how the Inspection is going to go.
--Inspection Team arrives and conducts Inspection using checklists (the same ones that have already been reviewed by the unit, usually with some minor updates, but basically the same).
--Inspection Team sends a formal report back to the unit detailing the discrepancies and dictating a timeframe for reporting back actions taken to correct.
--Unit corrects discrepancies and sends report back to Inspection Team saying what they’ve done.

It’s pretty much the same for all Inspections (FSAT, RFO, OTI, LEAF, KSE and V—don’t worry what they stand for…I’m kinda just showing off acronyms a little); really the only thing that changes is the particulars of what is being inspected and who runs the Inspection Team. It’s not a mystery and the whole point of Inspections anyway is to improve the process for the unit. I’m all *about* process improvement…if you hadn’t gotten a feel for that yet ;). And I don’t take Inspections personally. The Inspection Teams have a job to do, which is to make us better.

So we had this Inspection back in December. The Inspection Team had left us a rough draft of his checklists so we could start working to fix things, with a promise of getting us the official version “shortly.”

Long about March, I sent an email asking where the report was. I mean, 90 days is pretty reasonable for expecting a response back.

Long about April, I called asking where the report was.

Long about May, I got a call from the Inspection Team letting us know that we had failed the inspection, the report was forthcoming and we should expect a re-inspection within a few months. Roger…I knew there were problems from the rough copy of the checklists he left us; most of it was administrative in nature, and most of it had already been corrected. So, no freak-out from me. Just a little bit of annoyance that it was nearly six months later and we were just now to this point.

Long about today, I received the hard-copy, official report back, via the hands of my Sector Commander, with big, bold letters “UNSATISFACTORY” the most prominent word on the page. And even though I knew that was coming, it still stung a little, especially when I had to answer directly and immediately to the Sector Commander about why we were coming across as dirt-bags.

I think what annoys me the most about this scenario is that I have been asking, and asking, and asking for this report, willing and able to rectify the problems. But I hadn’t gotten anything back from the Inspection Team for seven, nearly eight months! And the report I did get today was signed 2 Jun 10. What on earth took it another month to get to me after it was signed? It wasn’t even a scanned copy…just a printed out, electronic //s// signature. The letter was “TO” KISKA, but I got it via Sector? A month later? I just don’t get it.

It’s tough to work hard at doing something well, at trying constantly to make sure you’re on top of things and then have that hard work completely undercut by circumstances. I know we did all we could to make these two things right. And that’s the bit of encouragement I offer to the guys who spent the day trying to fix this stuff…we did all we could do. The fact that sometimes it’s not enough…well, that happens too.

And then I think about all the people who are working so hard down in the Gulf of Mexico at what seems like such a heart-breaking situation, and the friends and families of CG6017, who will never see their loved ones again…and I tell myself to quit whining, and get back to work.


Victoria said...

Sheesh, and here I am grumbling that university paperwork is so painful!

(I do think it's overkill to require faculty to turn in *boarding passes* and a *conference program* to prove that they really did go to that conference to present a paper instead of sitting at home chuckling evilly to themselves at putting one over on the U!)

I know that this not what you are looking for because you want to go out in a blaze of perfection, but this is not.your.fault.

Victoria said...

Argh, okay, I cannot beat having to leave $800 worth of groceries at the store pending a working credit card, but --!!

Partly it's my fault: I should know better than to try to do ANYTHING related to money without having my Amazing Wonderful Administrative Coordinator here! University money + Victoria = Explosions!

The other problem with money and paperwork is how boring it is.