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The Success of George Brewster by Martin Green.


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 State’s 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 his job.

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 didn’t 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 department’s 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 department’s 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 I’d earned, I hoped, but for which I’d had to move over to the State’s 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 George’s 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 didn’t say so outright but strongly suggested the Division had a responsible Assistant Chief and that she actually took care of things so that George couldn’t 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 George’s 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 I’d 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 Director’s 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 he’d been a Division Chief but had run into a spot of trouble so he’d been moved next to the Director’s office in the newly created position of Special Assistant. It wasn’t exactly a promotion but he had received a slight pay raise. His job was to review Department memos. He told me that he wasn’t too busy but he didn’t mind this as he was nearing retirement. “I’ve had a successful career,” he said, “so I’ll get a nice pension. Every now and then I calculate it. I’m not sure what I’ll do but I might get an RV and drive around the country. It’ll be nice to relax after having worked hard all these years. It’s 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 George’s but not by much, and reflected. I’d also calculated my pension and had a long way to go. Yes, George had had a satisfactory State career. Unconsciously, he’d found the key to getting promoted, be so incompetent that it was the only way to get rid of him. It didn’t seem right but, as somebody had said, life wasn’t fair. I wished George a happy retirement in his RV.



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