After seeing my family off, I met with the GSA group. They were the people that handled all government buildings, furnishings and equipment.
I took the elevator down to the fourth level in the super secret new underground White House office expansion. GSA contractors had been years building the offices with big tarps and tents to keep prying eyes and satellites from seeing what they were doing.
Section 12 was where my task force was assigned. I was informed they were not to be called foremen or supervisors. They had computer printouts of various office setups based on the dimensions of section 12.
Being a novice, I asked what other department heads would choose for a space like this. She quickly narrowed it down to two.
I chose the one where there was one private office with everyone else in cubicles. There was an area with fax and copiers. All the cubicles had computers with printers. At the end of the cubicles there was a 20 person meeting table with 5 x 8 ft flat screens on the three walls.
“What will it take – a week or better to get this set up?” I asked.
“Oh no; all the standard office packages are prepackaged and staged at the GSA warehouse. The same is with the office equipment and communications. As soon as I click the approved tag and send it, they will be loaded on the truck and on their way,” she replied.
“The orders for the night shifts to assemble it tonight were sent out yesterday. This job was flagged as a top priority. There may still be odds and ends to finish in the morning, but you will have a place to work.”
I went back to office 12 and went to work with the only items I had in my portable office. I laid out tomorrow’s agenda for the first meeting of the task force.
Since I was using my secure state department laptop, it hooked right up to the White House wired system.
To use my JBG laptop, I used one of my cell phones as a hotspot.
I was just getting into the good stuff when two people from the ethics group came in the door to begin my OJT in Washington ethics and a handful of disclosure forms I needed to fill out.
I looked at the forms and decided it would be best if Curtis Warren or Howard, Howard & Fine assisted me with them.
After a brief overview, I sent them on their way and a promise that next week I would give them a couple hours to finish their speech.
They had not even finished when another agent brought in a stack of personnel files. He had a lady trailing behind him.
“I’m Grace Logan and I have been assigned to you for the rest of the day as your clerk. These four personnel files are from the secretarial pool. They were the first four that have volunteered to work for you; there are dozens more if these do not suit,” she said.
“Can these ladies be located to do an interview now?” I asked.
“It will take a couple minutes. Which one do you want first?” Grace asked.
“I want all four at the same time,” I replied.
“That’s a bit unorthodox,” Grace replied.
“They are going to work together; let’s see how they interact together from the beginning,” I replied. And then I added. “Get them here while I review the files.”
The files had their ID picture as the first sheet then all the things that should be in a personnel file. Education, college, each of the four spoke a different foreign language that happened to be four of the seven I spoke; something in common with them already.
Bobbie Canterberry, Celeste Newsome, Cassy Bitmore, and Mona Fox followed Grace in. Once they were seated, I started talking.
“Good afternoon, I’m Roberta Jones, I have been called a lot of things over the years such as Bobbie Joe when I was little. Later that became BJ, then Sergeant Jones and most recently Ambassador Jones. Every now and then someone will call me that woman or bitch. My friends call me BJ and I’m OK with that,” I said.
Bobbie Canterberry spoke German. I asked my questions in German, “Why did you volunteer to be a part of this task force?”
“Warum hast du dich freiwillig dazu verpflichtet, ein Teil dieser Task Force zu sein?”
“Du erinnerst mich an meine Mutter. Stark entschlossen und wird nicht mit Stier Mist irgendwelche lassen keine Ablenkungen stören, um den Job zu erledigen,“ she replied.
What she said was, “You remind me of my mother. Strong determined and will not put up with bull crap and will not let any distractions interfere with getting the job done.”
“Was, wenn ich dir gesagt habe, dass du stehen und streifen sollst, was wäre deine Antwort? What I asked was,“What if I told you to stand and strip, what would your response be?”
“Nein,” “No” she replied.
I asked the same questions of the other three in the foreign languages they spoke. I was satisfied with their responses and with their personnel files filled with good comments and appraisals, they deserved a chance to prove themselves.
I chose Bobbie to be my personal secretary with Cassy to be the general secretary. Celeste and Mona were going to be my process coordinators.
The process coordinators would collect the flow of information from the participants in the task, do research on behalf of the task force. Then keep it in an order we could easily follow.
I thanked Grace for her assistance as she left. I shut the door behind her to address my new team.
“Tomorrow the GSA says we will have a place to work. I understand the President is an early bird; we will be too. I will be in the office at 0700.”
“We will build the rules as they are needed. The most important thing you need to remember; you report to me. I insist there be no leaks of information; no water cooler talk about what goes on, in, or about our new office. All requests and statements go through me,” I said.
“Our first meeting with all the members is at 9 tomorrow. From 0700 to 0900 will be very busy for all five of us.”
We talked for another hour, just feeling each other out. I left at three; there was a wedding rehearsal tonight and the real thing tomorrow night for Patti and Purnell.
After I left I thought about the time and it was an issue. 1500 hours here was 1200 in California; that meant there were 4 hours that there would be no one in the office to cover for 40% of the US population in several densely populated areas. It was an area filled with multiple daily public events.
Then as an afterthought; it really didn’t matter as all the other federal agencies were 24/7 as were the first responders. The task force job was to try and prevent an attack by shared intelligence or find the culprits afterwards.
The roads were crowded on the way home, moving fast and bumper to bumper. I arrived home in time to sit in on the last few minutes of the regular meeting before going to the wedding rehearsal and dinner.
I found out how Vicky had handled the Windhoek, Namibia suspicions.
“Andy and a special OPS team arrived last night. Robert hacked into the general antenna the embassy uses to monitor local radio traffic. If there is anyone using phones for reporting, he said he can find them,” Vicky replied. Then she added.
“Andy is going to give a preliminary report tomorrow at two our time.”
The wedding rehearsal was a blast; Purnell was a comedian and that explained the Halloween theme.
Neither Patti nor Purnell had any family. Patti’s parents left taking everything with them with just a few months before she graduated college.
Purnell was an only child; his parents and grandparents on both sides had passed on when he was in his senior year.
“We have lived through tough times, now we are ready for the fun times. Let the fantasy begin!” Purnell said.
‘To each his own,’ I thought, but the costumes and masks for the wedding party and guests were going to make things interesting at the reception.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.