A few Justice Department employees may remember this period primarily as the Summer of the Fan Raids. Details are murky in this sweaty drama of individual will pitted against the relentless vast and impersonal bureaucracy. What the affected employees agree on is that, a few weeks ago, word got around that individual, government-issue office fans in one Justice Department building would be confiscated because they were fire hazards and because they wasted energy.
The confiscation of the fans has reduced energy consumption in federal buildings nationwide by 30 per cent since 1973, according to the General Services Administration (GSA).
Forewarned, attorneys, secretaries and paralegal specialists conspired to hide the precious fans in closets or under desks, some in shopping bags. One antitrust division attorney saidhe still has one stashed "above the acoustical tiles in my ceiling."
Attorneys said the fans are important when the volume of the peoples' business requires them to labor on weekends, when the building air conditioning may not be on, and also between seasons when the government schedule says the air conditioning must be off, but when the weather is, nonetheless, hot.
At these times, the air in small, windowless, inner offices becomes stifling, according to employees in the antitrust division, which is housed in the old Washington Star building, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the main Justice building.
Some employees occupying inner offices said they need the fans even in the winter, when the heating system becomes oppressive.
Some of the hiding places used by the Resistance were more successful than others.
The raiders "found most of the fans. They came in the middle of the night and found all the ones we had hidden in a closet," according to another antitrust lawyer who did not wish to be named.
Employees saw the raiders on more than one occasion, saw them rolling the fans out of the building and, according to one secretary, "onto and unmarked truck."
"They told us our coffee pots, radios, desk lights, our little refrigerator, anything that plugs in would have to go," said secretary Katrina Schroth, though those things were still in evidence here and there in the cramped, low-ceilinged offices.
The employees had assumed the raiders to be agents of GSA, which oversees the operation of federal buildings. According to one administrator in the antitrust division, the agents were the division's own office services personnel.
The "raiders" left some of the fans behind, not because they couldn't find them, but because the people who had them "were ready to fight them, wouldn't give them up," the administrator said. Others were left because Justice officials decided some of those little inner rooms were, indeed, too poorly ventilated, he said.
The raids were conducted following a spot check by GSA. "We were told to remove them all, or GSA would confiscate them and they would be a loss to the department," he said.
"Usually when we confiscate like that we pick them up and then we start shipping them back to employees again. Then GSA will come around again and tell us to pick them up. it's a cyclical thing. That's the way the bureaucracy works."
A GSA spokesman said that GSA is "looking for another 20 per cent reduction in energy consumption" on top of the 30 per cent already achieved.
A few snags were inevitable, the spokesman added knowingly, in getting employess to give up forbidden plug-in heating and cooling devices.
"We've had the same thing right here at GSA, fights with employees about things like this...No matter how much you approve of the policy, when it comes to your own fan, i your office, which is too damn hot anyway, that's an emotional issue."