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Steve Hansen: Federal employees living the good life

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Posted: Saturday, August 5, 2017 11:30 am

What’s it like working in the D.C. “swamp?” As one who lived there on and off for almost 15 years, I can provide some insight.

Actually, most people in the Washington area live quite well — thanks to your federal taxpayer dollars. If a person has at least a bachelor’s degree, life can be quite rewarding.

Take my neighbors, for example. Many of them worked for the federal government.

There was a psychiatrist who was employed at the National Institutes of Health. An interesting guy, but I don’t think anyone would have gone to him had he been in private practice.

You see, the doc had an anger control problem. It was a common sight to see the skinny shrink running around his British sports car stalled in the middle of the street. He would kick it and scream obscenities when the classic roadster would die for no apparent reason.

Doc’s son was a piece of work as well. He eventually ended up in juvie for neighborhood home burglaries.

Next to Doc’s house was a guy who worked at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. As a government scientist, his job was to figure out the best way to blow people up — or at least poison them with chemical weapons. His son got busted for trying to detonate a facility located on nearby government property.

Now before you think I’m making all this up, let’s move to another house on my street. There was another psychiatrist, who was working for the U.S. Public Health Service. But this guy was pretty level-headed. He knew who paid the bills and wanted to take full advantage of the money train.

He later retired from the service to join the California Department of Public Health, which gave him a big promotion. This time, however, his position was courtesy of the federal government and the California taxpayers. That made him eligible for two big retirements.

What he actually did for his six-figure salary no one really knew. But I’m sure the work was better than listening to the woes of neurotic patients while watching the hands on a wall clock slowly tick by.

I don’t want to make it sound like everyone in my neighborhood was dependent on the federal government. This applied to only about half of them. One of the exceptions was a neighbor who owned three liquor stores in D.C.

He was worth a slight fortune. Profits came from drunks, who included down and out people with college degrees in subjects like “bowling alley management” and a handful of congressmen secretly wandering the night streets of our nation’s capital.

Even I, your humble columnist, found federal government employment to be a lucrative enterprise. I worked at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, located on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Hospital. There were just three or four hours of lab work in the morning. Then it was chess-playing and fat-chewing for the rest of the day with co-workers, who also had nothing else to do.

My supervisor? Well, she wasn’t that concerned about our work ethics. As a lifetime federal employee, Marie just wanted to count the days until her retirement.

So why didn’t I stay with the easy life provided by the “swamp?” You know how young people are — so emotional, idealistic and often naïve as to when they really have it made. Simple pragmatism for me came much later in life. Back then, I just wanted to return to my California roots and foolishly leave the easy dollars behind.

Perhaps you now can see why the D.C. establishment fights both tooth and nail to keep things intact, along with opposing anyone who tries to change the status quo. As long as the hard-working public continues to support the system, federal workers can remain dependent, often incompetent and without any worry of being fired from a variety of occupations.

Of course, I’m not saying all government employees are like this. That would be a complete distortion, but I think you get the general idea.

And now that you “get it,” the only question is: Are you still sure you really want folks like these running your family’s health care system?

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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