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Confessions of an Old Fogey
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Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

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Thanks For Letting Us Know

Vernon Blake, an engineer at the Alabama Department of Transportation, was upset that it was an office joke that his boss spent most of his workday playing computer games. Since he was the department's network administrator, Blake installed "spyware" software on his boss's computer to get evidence; 70 percent of the 414 resulting screen shots taken over a seven-month period showed Solitaire on the boss's screen. Blake sent the evidence to managers. The result: his boss, assistant bureau chief George Dobbs, received a letter from his boss complimenting his "work ethic above reproach" but gently pointing out his game-playing was unacceptable. For his efforts, Blake was fired, ending his 21-year career. His offense? Installing software on department computers "without authority or permission." (Montgomery Advertiser)...On the bright side, with Blake gone Dobbs now has something to do.

 © 2004 This is True, reprinted with permission from the author.


It turns out that Vernon Blake has a web site:

It’s fascinating.  I’m not sure if his firing was justified or not (he presents a good case that his actions in installing the monitoring program wasn’t in violation of department policy), but Valorie and I had a long discussion about the slap on the wrist that the manager received.  She feels that it was outrageously lenient; my take is that the letter was a fairly measured reprimand, if the supervisor was really was effective in his job.  On the other hand, there is a clear indication that his game playing was causing morale issues, and compromising the supervisor’s ability to manage his organization.

But what SHOULD the reaction of an employee in an IT department be when he discovers that a supervisor in a division is spending time playing games instead of doing his job?  Is it appropriate to install spyware on his computer to document the abuse before blowing the whistle?  The courts have held that it’s ok for a manager (or corporation) to install spyware on employees’ computers, but what about the other way around?

Edit: Removed extraneous break.


  • It seems like this problem could have been solved with less heartache by just disabling the stock Windows games organisation-wide (so as not to single out the manager). This could be done either by removing them completely or using Windows policies. Neither method is inpenetrable, but we're not talking about a Windows security expert here, we're talking about a manager.

    I doubt this manager would have actually gone to the IT guy and asked him to reinstall the games. There is the possibility that he'd just start playing games embedded in web pages, though, I guess. Disable ActiveX and Java? ;)
  • "If the manager could hypothetically do his job in 10 minutes then why pay him for any more than 50 minutes per week?"

    Well, for obvious reasons?

    Let's assume the department did what you're suggesting--they pay the man for exactly 50 minutes per week. Then the job wouldn't be worth his, or anyone's, time. Especially if it were 10 minutes per day--why would you bother even driving to work for a 10-minute paycheck?

    This is complicated by the fact that, in all likelihood, nobody knows when those 10 minutes will be required in the course of a given day. So he's "on call" all the time. By only paying him for ten minutes per day, you're essentially saying that his "on-call" time is worth nothing.

    And that's to say nothing of what skill is required to perform those ten minutes of work. Or whether he may provide some kind of emergency support, etc.

    I have no problem being paid for providing value-on-demand, even if that value is not required for eight straight hours every day. It's a very common business model, and it works very well.
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