Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Some of the Facts

Ralph, like me, had worked for the Treasury Department, although he didn’t work for the IRS, which is an agency within Treasury. His work as a budget analyst followed his graduation from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and advertising, augmented by twenty-four credit hours of English, journalism, and speech.

He retired from Treasury in January 1997 with 35 years of service. Part of his job (one of six critical elements) required him to “write budget justifications, procedures, and other written material by applying professional-level writing ability to create high-quality written work.” (Certainly Ralph wouldn’t have had the subject matter to write much of a thriller, but maybe he had a sense of humor. It was a bureaucracy, after all.)

Just before Ralph retired, his manager rated Ralph’s performance “outstanding” in this “writing” element. “Outstanding” exceeded “excellent” under this system. Go figure.

Anyway, in Ralph’s employment, “excellent” meant writing budget justifications, statistical reports, procedures, guidelines, and other written materials clearly, concisely, and correctly. It included:

      Using excellent grammar and spelling.

      Communicating ideas effectively, especially narratives.

      Presenting ideas clearly so recipients asked few follow-up questions.

      Structuring paragraphs and sentences correctly.

      Working independently in drafting material and seeking guidance only when goals changed.

      Recipients receiving well and acting upon the written budget justifications.

      Doing only one revision per finished product.

Our man Ralph did even better than all of that since he received “outstanding” ratings. It was like getting an “A” plus-plus, I guess.

Ralph’s office staff, mostly accountants, used Ralph to do their writing. He contributed to a comprehensive agency-wide report in which agencies evaluated internal control and accounting systems. He edited the in-house newsletter of Treasury. So Ralph brought writing skill and experience to the table.

In 1992, about two years before he was eligible to retire, Ralph started writing outside his Treasury job. Fearful of retirement, he told the IRS and the court that he had hoped to make writing a second career. His first book-length manuscript of fiction was Lightning at Dawn. Later that year he wrote a collection of short stories called Boys and Girls Together. Before marketing these manuscripts for publication, he had an idea for another book.

Now what I’m about to tell you may seem incongruent for a bureaucrat like Ralph who worked for Treasury with a bunch of accountants writing staid budget proposals. He was at least fifty-five years old, maybe older.

Don’t be too surprised.

Tune in next time for a shock.