When the small market research firm I worked for in San
Francisco suddenly went bankrupt I was unemployed for three months before
getting a job as an analyst with the States Department of
Employment. I was a little apprehensive at being a government employee but Mike
McGee, the head of my small section, which dealt with unemployment rates,
seemed capable and my fellow analysts seemed like normal enough guys. There was
one exception, George Brewster. He was a man in his mid-thirties, short and
chubby, who also seemed a nice enough guy but who was clearly incompetent at
Brewster tried, but analyzing data was clearly beyond him and he
invariably came up with the wrong conclusions or had to ask someone else to
explain the numbers to him. He also had the bad habit of transposing figures,
which didnt help. He was clearly a drag on the section, as I found out
first-hand when he and I were assigned to the same project and I would up doing
almost all of the work myself. I asked why George was kept on and was told that
it was almost impossible to fire a State worker. Also, McGee had tried many
times to get George transferred to another section, but word had spread and
nobody else wanted him.
There was one way, however, to get rid of an incompetent
employee within the State system. An opening in the departments
Sacramento office had come up, a promotion. McGee wrote an enthusiastic
recommendation and the unsuspecting office soon had a new section chief. The
efficiency of our section went up exponentially and none of us worried about
what would happen in the departments far-off office in Sacramento. A
couple of years later I myself transferred to the state capital, where most
agencies were headquarted, a promotion that Id earned, I hoped, but for
which Id had to move over to the States Department of Health.
One day I overheard two of my co-workers talking about a section
chief in the Department of Employment of even more than the usual State
incompetence. Curious, I asked what his name was and, not to my complete
surprise, it was George Brewster. I related my experiences with George and they
told me that several reports Georges section had put out were so bad the
agency director had to disavow them.
Life went on its usual course. I married and my wife and I
bought a house in a Sacramento suburb. We started a family. Expenses went up
and I badly wanted a promotion, but times were hard and a hiring freeze was on.
The next I heard of George Brewster came from a story in the newspaper about a
State scandal. From what I understood, a Division chief in the Department of
Mental Health had retired and the Employment Department had solved its problems
with George by somehow moving him over to the vacancy, another promotion.
The story didnt say so outright but strongly suggested the
Division had a responsible Assistant Chief and that she actually took care of
things so that George couldnt cause too much trouble. This worked for a
few years but then the Division had to select a computer firm to re-design its
information system and, under Georges guidance, the firm had completely
botched the job. Lawsuits were threatened and the State evidently stood to lose
millions of dollars. Good grief! I thought. What a mess. I wondered what would
happen to George now.
I inquired but never did find out until some years later. I was
sent by the Department Director (by this time Id finally received a
promotion) to deliver an urgent report directly to the Director of the Mental
Health Department. I made the delivery and when I was leaving the
Directors large office I noticed a small cubicle next to it and glimpsed
a figure who seemed familiar. I looked in and there was a small plump man with
graying hair. George? I asked.
He smiled and, to my surprise, said my name. He invited me to
sit down. I asked what he was doing. He told me hed been a Division Chief
but had run into a spot of trouble so hed been moved next to the
Directors office in the newly created position of Special Assistant. It
wasnt exactly a promotion but he had received a slight pay raise. His job
was to review Department memos. He told me that he wasnt too busy but he
didnt mind this as he was nearing retirement. Ive had a
successful career, he said, so Ill get a nice pension. Every
now and then I calculate it. Im not sure what Ill do but I might
get an RV and drive around the country. Itll be nice to relax after
having worked hard all these years. Its time to let the younger people
take over the load. He said he was glad to see me and that I should drop
in any time.
I went back to may own office, a little larger than
Georges but not by much, and reflected. Id also calculated my
pension and had a long way to go. Yes, George had had a satisfactory State
career. Unconsciously, hed found the key to getting promoted, be so
incompetent that it was the only way to get rid of him. It didnt seem
right but, as somebody had said, life wasnt fair. I wished George a happy
retirement in his RV.