Friday, January 13, 2023

Inventory Control

      There's a lot of fuss in the news lately about the discovery of some Top Secret documents in offices President Biden used between his stint as V.P. and getting elected as President, and in his private home, all of them from his years as Vice-President.  This has spawned various comparisons with the other Top Secret documents former President Trump took along when he left office.  If you look around the Internet, you can find everything from "See?  They all do it!" to detailed point-by-point coverage of who did what and which man was more justified or handled the situation with more grace.

      That's all grist for partisan discussion and I suppose it's fine, but to me, it misses the point: clearly, the President and Vice-President are being treated with excessive deference when it comes to the handling of "Burn Before Reading" material.  And that's seriously messed up: those documents belong to the office, not the person who presently has the title -- no matter who he (or she) may be.  Sure, Presidents get to declassify whatever they like, but as long as it's secret, they need to handle that stuff with at least the same care as the clerk who dug the folder out of a triple-locked file and delivered it to them.

      You know every last one of those files has some kind of cryptic file number to keep track of it -- if not, in fact, every binder or even every page.  And anyone with the authority to look at them has to sign the document out and sign it back in again when they are done.  Presidents and Vice-Presidents should not be treated any differently.  They shouldn't be able to stick the thing in their pocket to read on the john later and forget about it, or chuck the file in a box of assorted correspondence and souvenirs that gets stuffed in a basement or garage when their term is over and they move out. That's preposterous; there needs to be some nervous Civil Service type with a clipboard and a checklist when Administrations turn over, accounting for each and every super-secret document the Great Man and his Number Two signed out during their time, making sure the papers all get turned back in so the next poor sod who gets stuck with the job can look up the precise number of nuclear missiles Chairman Xi has and exactly how bad the flea infestations get for his missile crews in their silos.

      If it was you or me, you know the .gov would triple-check that we had returned every file,* with dire penalties for anything that got stuck down behind the couch and forgotten.  The President and Vice-President are Just Some Guy (or Gal); while they get the top job for four or eight years, it's a temp gig and afterward, they have no more right to that kind of file than any other citizen.  It's time they started getting treated that way, no matter what party they belong to or where they stand in public opinion.  Presidents aren't kings, no matter how much we have to set them up with a nice house and fancy suits so they can have kings over for lunch without the country looking too shabby.  All that stuff is on loan and they must give it back for the next person to hold the job.
* They'd probably count every staple and paper clip in our desk and check the number against our initial stock and requisitions, too, just to make sure we weren't rippin' off the taxpayer.  Personally, I think there should be a damage deposit put up by Presidents and Vice-Presidents for their fancy rent-free digs -- and a walk-through the day they move out to check for damage and see if they get it back.


  1. Although you and I probably always had to sign documents out/in, ourselves, I'm highly doubtful that that is the way things work in the White House, the Capitol, or the Supreme Court. I'm guessing there's a lot of hysteresis in the red tape loop. That said, the Prez (& so forth) absolutely needs to have a system in place to assure that (especially, classified) documents are properly handled and stored. Perhaps the respective Special Counsels can nudge someone into taking care of that (small?) detail.

    P.S. Come to think of it, in my early years I was sometimes tasked to fetch classified documents from the vault for my boss. I don't recall whether I ever returned them but as long as I had Boss's signature on the hand receipt, it was no longer my responsibility. And, later, I (and one other, since no one person was allowed to courier) sometimes drew the task of inter-state toting of classified materials. Perhaps I'm giving the political people too much "bye" since they, theoretically, would have had to sign hand receipts.

  2. Norton anti-virus is now reporting your blog as a dangerous phishing website.

    Long term reader who likes the free ice cream.

  3. Ways to have the ink disappear after a certain amount of time outside of a certain environment? Is that possible now? Might be a partial solution. Of course fire would not be, if it's in a briefcase, but ink should be ok.

  4. I don't think that's practical, Matt. I don't think there's a technological solution here. It's going to have to procedural, as imperfect as that may be.


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