I was let go recently from the Bureau. After giving my all to this federal institution I am disheartened. To process my curtailed career I thought it best to write about it. That is perhaps cliché: Bitter Federal Agent Writes Scathing Memoir. It’s the stuff of Harrison Ford films. However, after “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” I’d prefer my role be played by William H. Macy. But as much as I need to write this down, I’m hesitant. I’m not proud of some of the things I did, and I’m not sure my experiences can be explained in layperson terms. Beyond that, I’m not even sure it’s legal to write about it; I swore an oath to uphold something. I think it was the Constitution.
So, yeah, I got canned by the Bureau of the Census. The FBI wasn’t hiring part-time workers, so you take what you can get. I was hired as an “enumerator” which is Bureau lingo for: the guy who verifies your address. Did you know that a national census is required by the Constitution every ten years? But, before the 2010 Census surveys can be mailed to every place where people live, or could live (caves and railroad cars are choices in the manual), the enumerators go out like Swine Flu and verify addresses with GPS on hand-held computers. HHCs if you’re in the Bureau. Usually enumerators don’t talk to homeowners, unless there’s a discrepancy from the HHC list to what’s “on the ground,” as we say in the Bureau. But I’ve heard that sometimes enumerators talk to residents. Like when they’re being chased off a property with a gun, or like one enumerator who went to a home, knocked and was greeted by a naked man. A man whom the enumerator recognized from church. The interview was conducted without a word about, well, you know.
Now, I say “I’ve heard that…enumerators talk to residents” because I never actually went to any housing units. I worked a total of 40 hours for the Census. Less, if you don’t count our hour-long lunches, the two 20-minute breaks each day, the morning we were locked out of the training room, or the day we got out at 1 pm because it was 70-degrees and sunny. When I say “worked” I mean I went through the training. And when I say “training” I mean I spent most of the time filling out withholding forms, confidentiality forms, payroll forms, form forms, etc. I was even “sworn in” as a government worker after 15 minutes. When our trainer told us to stand and take an oath, I looked around to see if he was joking. And then I was put in charge of the HHCs while everyone went on a 20-minute break.
So, I went home after training and waited to be assigned work. The following Thursday I got the call. “Hello, this is Phyllis from the Census.”
“Great,” I replied.
“I need to pick up your official Census Bureau badge and your official Census Bureau messenger bag. There’s no work. I don’t know why they even trained you guys, they knew the work was done in your area.” I met her at a local grocery store to return my gear. I was hoping for a black sedan and dark sun glasses; I got Phyllis in a Dodge mini-van and Cubs jacket. My glamorous career in the Bureau was over.
Now, I don’t write this as another study on government inefficiency. I think the census is important because it helps communities figure out how to use tax dollars and what services are needed for a changing population. And I don’t write this ‘cause I’m angry about the job. I didn’t expect much anyway.
I write this because I liked the people I trained with. It was only 40 hours, but everyone there was in the same boat; everyone needed to make extra money. Just so you know, there’s been a downturn in the economy. Yeah, sorry to break it to you. So, there were white collar folks, some realtors, a school board member, a community activist. Some twenty-somethings, a single mom, a widower, some retirees. All had a good sense of humor. Most had a distrust of government (the oath should’ve included: “We acknowledge that we are now officially part of the problem.”). Everyone was just trying to make ends meet.
I was looking for supplemental work ‘cause I direct a not-for-profit, and the freelance writing I did on the side dried up. But I have nothing to complain about. I had lunch with one of my fellow trainees who’d been out of work for over a year. He couldn’t find a truck driving job to save his life. And three months before our training, his wife passed away. His house was in foreclosure ‘cause her income was gone, and he ended up having to move into his brother’s house. But you know what he said? “The Lord has provided every step of the way. Yessir. Yessir.”
Pray for that guy.
I’m grateful for my career in the Bureau, however short-lived. I met some people who are persevering in situations more difficult than mine. People exhibiting resiliency and gratitude.
There should be a movie about that.
Kyle White is an occasional Peninsula Pulse contributor. His book Wisconsin River of Grace was recently released by Cornerstone Press. Pining for Wisconsin, White resides in northern Illinois with his wife and children. His book can be purchased at http://www.kyleLwhite.blogspot.com.