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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Manmade Hazards


by Julie Mark Cohen




Mitigation Division, Federal Engineering Institute

Mercer Island, Washington

 

"That was satisfying." Michael Hailstone stroked his greying goatee and stared out the fifth floor window across the East Channel. "It was worth moving here for my sabbatical."

 

George Gunderson peered over his reading glasses. "I should hope so. The Public has entrusted its faith in you. But, how did you finish so quickly? I still have four full days of work left."

 

"Simple," Michael said. "You assigned only forty proposals for me to send out for reviews."

 

"Only forty?" George stood, carefully placed his glasses on his desk, turned toward Michael, and snapped his suspenders against his thin frame. "Agency procedure requires that you read each proposal, select three reviewers from each proposer's reference list, then add two more from our master list of potential reviewers. Did you do this?"

 

"No. This procedure is biased. It's based on selecting friends from a list of friends."

 

"Michael, I'm afraid that you've been in that think tank for far too many years. A proposal worthy of our funding provides discussions that both support and counter the subject matter. As for this agency, our 'friends' as you call them are the taxpayers who rely upon us to determine how to best spend-"

 

"But, the bias in my approach was insignificant. I sent the proposals to my long-time colleagues. All of us are risk analysts. I told them to fund only risk analysts." Michael smirked, then turned his back to George.

 

"You did what?" George stomped back-and-forth like a caged animal, swinging his fists, knocking documents off of bookshelves. "We can't do that. We have to review all proposals on their own merits, regardless of who submitted them."

 

Michael assertively spoke into the window. "I distributed the funding fairly."

 

"Don't tell me you already did this. The notification date is next week and no sooner. We have procedures here," said George as he rapidly rapped on his computer keys. "Dammit. You've given away nearly all of our division's money!"

 

"I seriously doubt that."

 

George grabbed Michael by his shirt sleeve and pointed with his other hand. "You've spent over eighty-five percent of our semi-annual budget." He stepped sideways, leaned over Michael's computer, and furiously scanned through his files. "I can't believe that you denied this guy funding. I read his proposal - it's excellent."

 

"Oh, that guy, the one with the plaid cap, beard, and ponytail. James Dewgoode. He's just an electrical engineer. What would he know about bridges? The bozo used the East Channel bridge - a relatively new, well-built bridge - in his preliminary vulnerability studies."

 

"When was the last time you read your e-mail? Dewgoode has sent you at least a dozen messages in the past week with the subject, 'Request for Reconsideration. Please respond.'"

 

"Oh, those." Michael glanced down at the water. "Odd. A man in a small boat is rowing toward the East Channel bridge. The boat's sitting very low. It's full of burlap bags and a red gasoline can. That-"

 

George cringed. "That man looks exactly like-"