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

December 4, 2012

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. 

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Eric Yoder | December 4, 2012