Halloween, then Election Night: Shut the door and turn out the lights

Politics are ugly these days but Federal Drive anchor Tom Temin thinks on the whole, the public are better than our politicians.

This Federal Report column appears on the last Friday before something apocalyptic — namely, the election of a president that 50% of the people will heartily dislike and consider illegitimate.

We survived the Civil War, we’ll survive this.

Still, in many cities, authorities and even commercial landlords are taking special precautions in case there’s civil unrest. This could be worse than Los Angeles after the Dodgers won the World Series earlier this week. The moment to take a deep breath has arrived.

Yeah, politics are ugly these days. But I think, on the whole, we’re better than our politicians. Since the government is somehow at the center of what happens Tuesday, I’m also thinking of the large numbers of feds who simply want to do their jobs as best they can.

Forgive me for digressing with an exception that’s at once pathetic and hilarious. My vote — for maximum chutzpah — goes to Garrison Courtney, whose case is thoroughly described in this 1,513-word Justice Department press release. I love DOJ press releases. They bring an exquisite blend of Joe Friday “all we know are the facts, ma’am” mingled with bits of down from ruffled moral feathers, referring to Courtney’s “brazen scheme … fueled by his own greed,” his “salacious fraud.”

Briefly, the one-time Drug Enforcement Administration public affairs officer is headed to a 7-year prison term for impersonating a CIA agent on a non-existent task force. He fooled several companies into hiring him for “commercial cover” to do CIA work. Using aliases, threats of prosecution, and warnings of surveillance, he wove quite a web. At one point he worked as a contractor at the NIH’s Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC). From there he steered deals to other companies where he was also on the payroll.

Perhaps most astonishing is the list of people and agencies cited in the announcement: DOJ criminal division, Office of Inspector General and FBI field offices, naturally, but also criminal investigators and IGs from the Air Force, Space Force, Army, Navy, Intelligence Community and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. It takes a village.

Crumb-bums like Courtney are out there, super-spreaders of deceit. If nothing else, they remind us of the need for a modernized credential and identity management infrastructure. More important, they contrast sharply with the people who really want to do good.

So when the results come in, no matter what the outcome, I’ll be concentrating on the people simply doing the nation’s work because they believe in their agencies’ missions and have enthusiasm for the work itself.

For instance, the 34 people who have joined the government as Presidential Innovation Fellows this year. The PIF program, operated by the General Services Administration, is so manifestly useful even Barack Obama and Donald Trump agree on it. With names like Qureshi, Skandarajah, Oguntade, and Huang as well as Cole, Ryan and Valenti — they are a heritage and geographic cross section.

As PIF program manager Josh Di Frances pointed out, these people already had good careers and accomplishments. Most of them probably were earning more than the GS-15 level pay they’ll get for their one or two years in their assigned agencies. But they want to help out.

We’ve also got all those Service to America Medals finalists and winners. Unlike the corny celebrities who share in the reflected glory during this year’s virtual ceremonies, I spoke to most of them personally, interviewing them for the Federal Drive. Several common qualities thread through this diverse group. They’re modest about taking credit for significant achievement; the work on their work, paying little mind to whatever atmospheric politics swirl around them; they credit colleagues; and they have tenacity because some goals take a long time.

Occasionally they get sucked into the political vortex. People will be arguing about Anthony Fauci for years. Just what was he saying when that first pitch that went suspiciously … left?

Also keep in mind that even your most disliked president appoints at least some effective people, real people. Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security Secretary under President Barack Obama, comes to mind. A gentleman. I thought President Donald Trump’s one-time Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin had his heart in the right place, even if he got his coat tail caught — unfairly in my view — in the Washington scandal wringer. Defense Secretary Bob Gates bipartisanly and effectively served two presidents.

To be sure, presidents appoint — and their appointees appoint plenty of duds, hacks and self-dealers. I’m just saying it’s a mistake to write off the whole class of political appointees as inherently evil.

Our annus horribilis 2020 ain’t over yet. Why tomorrow, Halloween arrives and, personally, I won’t have leftover mini Snickers bars to hide in the freezer compartment of the cube fridge under my desk. Because in most places trick-or-treating is verboten, why buy the candy in the first place? And then Tuesday arrives. For that I may stock on something stronger than chocolate.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, originated as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end.” The autumnal holiday, rooted in Christian and pagan festivals — with elements of magic and mystery – celebrated the link between seasonal and life cycles. (Winter was then a time associated with death.)

Source: Library of Congress

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