Monday, November 13, 2006

The Best Laid Plans...

Watching the planning for APEC unfold has laid to waste any faith I ever had in government conspiracy theories. It's just not possible -- the level of organization such a thing would require is simply too high. Not that people here aren't organized and working hard, but there are so many moving parts. Hanoi's traffic patterns show less complexity.

The countdown meetings alone require gargantuan effort. When one takes into account the entire POTUS, FLOTUS, and SecState* crews, each of which include embassy, State, and White House teams, there are easily a thousand people involved in preparing for just under two days worth of events. More if you include the Secret Service, the Press, and the people who actually make a living working at the sites. Then there’s coordination with the other visiting governments and all of their entourage to take into account... it’s barely controlled chaos. And true to chaos theory, one small change or hitch in one event ripples out to effect every other aspect of the undertaking.

My own role has changed multiple times since my arrival. Originally I was assigned USTR and site back-up – or in other words, to be the coordinator for any press events US Trade Representative Amb. Susan Schwab might desire, and to act as the sort of backup press coordinator at two of the sites the President will visit. Seeing as my first reaction to this assignment was, “Uh, what’s USTR stand for?” it’s probably for the best that a foul-up at some level resulted in about 1/8 of the delegation’s accreditation applications being lost, mine included. No accreditation means no credentials, and no credentials means no security clearance. I couldn't even get into the hotel housing the control room phones and computer banks, much less get on sites the President plans to visit. I pointed out the problem and asked if perhaps someone else ought to take over my duties. They gave USTR to an officer from New Delhi who's extremely capable and proactive, and more experienced in PD work than I am. I'm sure he'll do a better, more thorough job than I would have. It’s more important that the work be done well than that I be the one to do it. Right? Right.

So since site work is out of the question, I was reassigned to keeping the master PD duty schedule updated and to helping organize the section of the filing center dedicated solely to the press traveling with the Secretary of State. This involves writing captions for pictures to go on the State website, making sure there are enough computer stations for the SecState’s press pool, organizing press clips… Could be interesting. But of course, less than half a day into these duties, my credentials came through. So as of now I’m re-reassigned to be site officer for one of the smaller venues the President and SecState plan to visit. I’ll continue to maintain the master schedule, but have to drop any pretense of being seriously involved in the SecState filing center. I’ll still be taking shifts there; it just has to be worked around my site officer schedule. Not that I can give a good account of what that schedule might be just yet. I suspect the nice woman charged with organizing the filing center as a whole is not very pleased that things keep changing, but – again! - the work is handed to a PD officer (this one from Rangoon) with more experience than me. Which can only be a good thing. Right? Right.

What a mess.

Meanwhile, my hands are shaky and weak. Shopping for omiyage inbetween the two meetings, I can't feel the texture of the silk fabrics everyone else is exclaiming over. There's no strength in my grip, and I'm afraid of dropping my coffee at lunch. I wish I didn't have to worry about this just now.

*'President of the United States', 'First Lady of the United States', and 'Secretary of State'. The shorthand 'POTUS' was first developed for telegraph operators in 1879. Fun facts to know and tell.

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