Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Washington Post Features

March 25, 2014

Retirees' paperwork, stuck in a mine, points to government's balky IT problems

(Continued)

BOYERS, Pa. —

And you can't put a computer file in a manila folder.

"We do print them out, right now. But we won't in the future," said Doug Berger, who supervises this operation. The printed-out documents are put in the folder, and it continues.

Now, Step 3: The file moves around the corner to an adjacent cavern. The workers there have a vital but frustrating job. They must call, email, fax, badger and harass workers in other federal agencies to find paperwork that has been left out of the file.

"I used to chase people for months — literally — for one signature on one piece of paper. You want to talk about an egregious waste of taxpayer money?" recalled said one worker who left the mine recently and declined to be named because of fears of retribution.

Step 3 usually takes a few days to a few weeks. But if anybody's file is misplaced along the way, it slows everybody's work down.

"On a daily basis, we would get from five to 50 emails, asking everybody to take time out of their day to search their desks for case files," the former worker said. That worker said the experience of hunting down lost paperwork and lost files inside an underground cavern had been bad enough to force a career change.

The worker's new job: setting off explosives.

"I'm handling live ordnance on a daily basis, just to get out of there," said the worker, whose company blasts holes in the ground for oil and gas wells. "One of the five worst jobs in the world was a great alternative to being down there."

Finally, when all the file's missing papers are found, the file moves on to a new set of workers in a new set of caverns.

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