The Washington Post

The Federal Diary, 1930’s edition: A crackdown on ‘primping’

In celebration of the Federal Diary column’s 80th birthday last week, the Federal Eye is reprinting one column from each decade of its existence over the next two weeks. 

First, be sure to check out the inaugural column from Nov. 29, 1932, when diarist George D. Riley introduced to readers a place “to meet daily and read the news off the beaten path pertaining to federal employees.”  

Current Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson visited WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi show on Monday to mark the anniversary and noted that the Diary’s mission has changed somewhat since the first column, with less focus on gossipy, personal tidbits and more reporting on substantial issues that affect the federal workforce. 

In today’s reprinted column from the 1930’s, diarist Alfred Friendly recounted the decision by the head of the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) to crack down on “primping.” The November 29, 1939 headline read: “Employees who powder noses ahead of time, so as to run when the bell rings, must be reported, [Comptroller General Fred H. Brown] says.”

Straightening one’s tie before the official 4:30 p.m. closing time was also frowned upon. The “ukase against jumping the gun carries on the GAO reputation of being Washington’s most machinelike, regimented and soulless government office,” Friendly wrote. 

It seems some things have changed since then: In 2011, The GAO ranked third in the Partnership for Public Service‘s list of the best places to work. Davidson quipped in his column last week that the 1939 Comptroller might be one of those managers today who block telework; does anything from the column strike a chord as familiar to your agency today? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

Sara is a producer and editor for mobile projects at the Washington Post.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
What can babies teach students?
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
How a hacker group came to Washington
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
How hackers can control your car from miles away
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained
Next Story
Eric Yoder · December 4, 2012

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.