Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fiscal Management in the Work Week from Hell

Perusal of this week's page in my daily planner conjures up all the same feelings of frenetic unease and cognitive dissonance as viewing something out of a Hieronymus Bosch sketchbook. To say I've overextended myself would be somewhat of an understatement. I have some vague notion of how this came about: mostly a combination of a week and a half out of the office, a week long visit by a friend from the States, and the apparent utter inability to say 'No, actually, I can't do that for you; I'm much too busy down here in the visa section drinking mai tais and practicing my golf swing.' The fact that our number of Japanese applicants has dropped precipitously -- thereby inversely raising my refusal rate to a rather surprising 25% -- is just one more stress. (Today's favorite rejection: the Peruvian who told me his consulate kept his old passport when he sent it in to be renewed. Yeah, right. "Sir," I asked him flatly, "exactly how long were you in Japan without a visa?" After some hemming and hawing and 'oh,-I-don't-speak-Japanese-so-well'ing he finally came out with: 5 years. やっぱり。 Enjoy your transit home through Europe.)

Anyways, one of my big projects this week is organizing a representational event (ah, shades of A-100!) for the consular section. 40 people have RSVP'd, though I had asked for funding for 60 people on the off chance that EVERY invitee came. Thus, I was able to arrange for food and drink at fully $300 dollars beneath my initial projected budget. Great, right? I was pretty pleased with myself. $300 back in the consulate's pocket. Then I get this call from the management section: Have I considered ordering more pizza? they want to know. Or a few sushi platters? Perhaps buying some beer? Merlot goes well with pepperoni, didn't I agree?

I didn't quite know what to make of this at first. 17 pizzas between 40 people already seemed more than adequate, and we have enough beer and soda in the consular fridge to crush a person. But what I had forgotten was that this is the government, not some private company. That money doesn't go back into the consulate's pocket; we don't get to use it later when we need to buy a new desk or replace the carpet. Instead, it disappears into some budgetary black hole never to be seen again. And moreover, to not spend the money you request is the fiscal equivalent of crying wolf; do it too often, and when you do need to spend to the last penny, you'll suddenly find your allowance has been cut. Rather naive of me, but somehow I'd always thought the whole government spending thing was more of a joke than an actual practice... It's a weird logic, but once I got my head around it, I felt rather stupid for not having seen my mistake: Only ask for funding for 60 if you really think all 60 are going to come. Or, apparently, anticipate 40, ask for 60 just in case, then go out and buy extra beer.

So, in the spirit of protecting the future of our representational event money pot, I made a late evening trip to the local supermarket to stock up on provisions. I bought out all their diet coke, picked up one each of every type of rice cracker and potato chip, and threw in some bags of snickers and milky way bars for good measure. If it weren't for the lack of hard cider and jello shots, I could have been on my way to a sorority party. Meanwhile, management is taking the car tomorrow to buy alcohol on my behalf, so I won't have to schlep it squirrel-like to the consulate on my own.

Also tomorrow, I have to give a 30 minute presentation on student visas in Japanese. Seeing as my last speech went so well, maybe I'll be cracking open some of that alcohol a little early.

If I can just make it to Sunday...

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