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Your Tax Dollars at Work...The Saga of the LIttle Red Numbers
10/29/2009 3:21:17 PM

Years ago, I worked in a federal office as a purchasing agent.

When I started, all puchase orders were typed. They came in a pack with an original page and nine carbon copies. Page one was great, page two was not quite as great, and the quality diminished until you got to page 10 which usually wasn't much more than a smudgy thing that could only be deciphered by comparing it to a previous page in the pack.

Some sections required two copies, the receiving section needed three, so we gave everybody one from somewhere up front, and one from somewhere in the back.

In the lower right hand corner of each page was a red number, 1 through 10, and that is what we used for breaking down the purchase order and sending copies to accounts payable, receiving, the requesing office, and other sections. According to their needs, they might get copy 2 and copy 7, or copy 3 and copy 6.

Being a government office, we had an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) which told us which copies went where. Each office also had an SOP telling them what to do with their copies. Receiving might keep one copy for their records, for example, and send one copy to Accounts Payable to show that the goods had been received and that it was okay to pay the vendor.

The offices would keep the best copy and send out the worst copy, as it was just a confirmation of the paperwork which the other office already a better copy!

One day, we moved into the 20th century, and got printers which printed out the entire purchase order.

All 10 pages were now equally legible and there was no difference between them at all.

We purchasing agents were ecstatic! Not only were we freed from the task of breaking down each 10-page pack, stripping the carbons, seeing that page x went with page y, and so forth, but we also could type up all the info in the computer and make corrections before printing without the mess and hassle of trying to erase nine pages of carbon copy and putting everything back in the typewriter and aligning it so that everything looked nice and neat.

Heck, even if we printed the thing and found a mistake, it was now just a matter of correcting the mistake in the computer and re-printing the purchase order.

We became much more efficient as we could send the top two copies to one office, the next two to another, etc., and everybody got two perfectly clear copies! Not only that, there was no carbon paper involved so even that part was easier.

About three days into the "new era", one of the supervisors came to us from a section which received purchase order copies. She had a complaint. The new purchase order forms did NOT have a little red number on the bottom right hand corner, so she did not know which one to file and which one to send to another office.

Despite almost an hour of everyone in the purchasing department trying to explain that it didn't matter any more, since all copies were exactly alike, she refused to budge, saying that her SOP said to file copy x in her office and send copy y forward to another office. Now, she couldn't tell which was copy x and which was copy y!

She just didn't know what to do!

Here's where I ask you how you think OUR supervisors solved the issue?

As Paul Harvey used to say, "Now. The rest of the story."

Our department head and section supervisor agreed that from that point on, we, the purchasing agents, would put little red numbers assigned to her section on the bottom right hand corners of the pages we sent to her. In fact, our section supervisor came around and handed each of us a red pen for that purpose.

The next day, our supervisor told us that since we were putting numbers on the pages for the one section, we should do it for all, so we then had to write the numbers 1 through 10 on the lower right hand corner of the pages and distribute them as we had before.

A day or two later, our supervisor discovered that we were still managing to save a little time by grabbing two pages and writing 2 and 7 on them, grabbing two more and writing 3 and 6, and so on. We were then instructed to go through the pages, numbering them 1 through 10, IN PROPER SEQUENCE, and THEN pull copy 2 and copy 7, copy 3 and copy 6 and send them out just as before.

Although the purchasing agents all complained to higher levels, the colonel in charge of the deparment upheld the supervisor's decision. In fact, the only person who seemed to be on our side was the warehouse foreman, JOE. He came into our office one day and asked why his three copies still had little red numbers on them. When we explained, he laughed and loudly announced that it was the dumbest thing he had ever heard of. He also refused to pay any attention to the numbers and just sent out or filed whichever copy he happened to pick up.

I cannot and will not say that every government office has problems like that, but I have more stories along the same line and may share them as well some day.

I'm not sure if this is funny or sad!

I don't work there any more, so I can say....

Have a great day!


P.S. Someday I'll tell you about why my supervisor thought we made over a million copies a month on the copier in our office!!!


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