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Today I phoned a U.S. gov't agency with a few research questions--quick things having to do with the facilities, but not questions answered on their FAQs. (I emailed 3 months ago, but got no response.) Got passed around a dozen times, which is fine, and to be expected. When they finally got me to the PR guy, whose job it is to answer such things--he explained that I'm not important enough for him to answer my questions. Said it wouldn't be a good use of taxpayer money. (I wasn't aware that he was paid by the question, and I'm a taxpayer, but I didn't mention this.)

He spent enough time explaining that I'm not important enough to deal with--his words, not mine--that he could have answered most of my questions.

I've found the PR people at the CIA, NSA, and FBI to be very helpful. I almost invited the Secret Service's public relations person to Thanksgiving. (Really, she's lovely. You should write something involving the Secret Service just so you can talk to her.)

Then I get the stiff arm from an agency that's not national security. And that's terrific, because people who are querying need more tread marks on their faces.

Anybody deal with this? Did you just keep following up?
#1 - January 29, 2013, 01:29 PM
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I emailed NORAD once with some research questions that I couldn't find on their FAQ, and they were really nice and helpful and quick to get back to me.

If you can't find the answer easily, no one else will either. Is this the type of detail you can just make up?
#2 - January 29, 2013, 01:34 PM
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I may have to, Artemesia. But the main question was just in which building something is housed (in a complex). And I really think he could have said, "Smith Hall," or whatever faster than explaining why he's not going to answer my questions, even though that's his job.

But it's a new day, I'm less crabby...and you're right, if I have to I can make most of it up. I can also name a bad guy after him, heh heh.
 :muahaha:
#3 - January 30, 2013, 06:49 AM
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This was a Federal Government office?  That sounds like some was wearing their jockeys to tight.  And from my knowledge of working with Federal offices the opposite of what they want to project.

One way of finding out the information you need is to call your local Congressman or Senator's office and tell them the experience you had with the PR person in the office and his using the words that you were not important enough to deal with - they will find the information for you.  He probably wasted more of his time pretending to be more important than he was by not providing simple information, rather than answer the question. 

If it is a state office, call the governor's office.

I worked to long as a civil servant to know that you do not tell the public that they are not important.  If you do not have the answer to their question, you try to find out who does and tell to call that person. 

There are times you cannot help someone and you do have tell them that, however it is told in a straight forward method.  You never tell the person that they are not important enough, that they are wasting your time, etc.  Even if it is the tenth telephone call from the same person and you have already told them that there is nothing you can do for them.  You simply repeat the same information.  You may become shorter in your explanation, such as "Ms. Z as I told you several times before there is nothing I can help you with on this matter."

Go above their head, call someone that can get to the root of the problem.  Seriously.
#4 - January 30, 2013, 07:28 AM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

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Perhaps a FOIA request?  http://www.foia.gov/

It can take a while to get a response, but may be worth a shot if it's something you really need.
#5 - January 30, 2013, 09:18 AM

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I can also name a bad guy after him, heh heh.
 :muahaha:

And then kill him off. ;)
#6 - January 30, 2013, 09:47 AM
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Dewey--If your congressperson is any good at all, s/he'll take care of it (the bad attitude of the PR guy).That's considered part of constituent service. You have every right to be annoyed. And you have every right to have your question answered.
#7 - January 30, 2013, 10:01 AM
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I write tax study guides for an exam administered by the IRS. I have tremendously tight deadlines to rewrite nearly 2,000 pages of very technical material. Earlier this month, I had some specific questions related to a reorganization the IRS is doing in regulating tax preparers, which were not addressed in any printed material that I could find but that I needed to know for one of the books. So I started with the IRS media office. I couldn't believe how unhelpful they were. After being forced to submit questions in writing and waiting a week without hearing anything, I received an email with an answer to only one question and the others not addressed. I spoke to my contact again, and she told me that I "wasn't media." Really? Books that are bought by thousands of people a year are somehow not considered media? I told her that from now on, since I wasn't "media," I would go directly to the people who would have the information.

It took a lot of digging to get to the correct people/phone numbers, but after a bunch of calls to people in DC, Nashville, Austin, Detroit and St. Louis (IRS folks are spread out in a lot of different offices!) I got my answers. I found the specific people I dealt with very helpful overall.

I'm a former print and broadcast journalist, and this stuff is just not acceptable. We're paying these people's salaries. My only suggestion is to complain to a superior, or to bypass any flaks who are unhelpful by trying to get straight to other government employees who might have the information.
#8 - January 30, 2013, 06:37 PM

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Once when I had a similar problem with someone who was being rather a bully about not answering my question I had a sudden inspiration (I have no idea from where). I paused a moment, then in a tone of surprise said, "Oh! I see now. You don't know the answer to my question. No wonder you won't answer it. Then I made my voice very sweet and said, "I'm so sorry to have troubled you. Could you forward my call to your supervisor?"

There was a long pause, some flustered back peddling and then I at least got part of an answer. But I FELT a lot better.
#9 - January 30, 2013, 08:06 PM
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I think if you had this kind of experience with that person, chances are other people are having it, too. I would ask for the supervisor so he could have some retraining on how to help people in his public office and be reminded that he is there to serve the public.
Good luck!

I also really like Bobi's answer!
 :goodluck
#10 - January 30, 2013, 09:14 PM

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Thanks for all the ideas and encouragement--much appreciated. I guess I'll wait a couple weeks, and then follow up.  :phone
#11 - January 31, 2013, 06:47 AM
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You do not need to wait a couple weeks, call on Monday or Tuesday.  Don't wait.  Remember that favorite quote people always throw at public servants.  "I pay your salary!"  Anyone who works in a Federal or State office relies on Federal and State funding, i.e. tax monies.  Although I suggest you not use that line, because I always ask for a raise as many of us on the battle line as I like to call it were underpaid (state employees).  Federal employees go by grade and it depends on where they are, some are not so high, others are paid a decent salary. 

Call them next week, early in the week.  If you do not get a response you need contact your congressional representative, they are always very helpful. 
#12 - January 31, 2013, 04:13 PM
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Hi there,

I know you have had a ton of responses, but as a former NASA PR person, I have to weigh in. This is the guy's JOB for heaven's sake.

If he thinks you don't count as media, get someone else. At NASA, we had a newsroom as well as public affairs officers assigned to different subject areas. If it was a newsroom person giving you a hard time, find the public affairs officer that can help you or vice versa. Many agencies also have an Education Office that also deals with the public and can help you, especially if you emphasize that you write for children. Some also have a Public Inquiry office, which might be the right place. Finally go through the Legislative Affairs Office if you hit a dead end.

Yes, it's a bureaucracy, but stick with it. Their job is to provide information to tax payers!

Kirsten Larson
#13 - January 31, 2013, 06:47 PM
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Yes, but he should have passed her to the PR person instead of being rude.  JMHO
#14 - January 31, 2013, 06:55 PM
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This is very helpful information, kwlarson, and lizstraw, I appreciate the encouragement. I think I still like Joni's idea best.  :snork:

He was just so--hostile, and it was so unexpected.

Hoppy bunnies to you all for your support.  :whitebunny :whitebunny :whitebunny :whitebunny :whitebunny
#15 - January 31, 2013, 08:15 PM
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Name an incompetent bad guy after him.

And then kill him off in a most humiliating way.

Bwaahahahahaaa!
#16 - January 31, 2013, 08:29 PM

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Yes. The beauty of writing is that we can exact our revenge in a way that's not only legal, but profitable.
#17 - January 31, 2013, 09:06 PM
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As a current Broadcast Journalist I have to weigh in as well. I make these kinds of calls to media / pr arms of govt. agencies all the time. Some are incredibly helpful, but I run into these kinds of human roadblocks all too often. I work for a respected NBC affiliate that's owned by a large media conglomerate (Hearst), but still get the "we don't have time for questions on this topic" response if it doesn't jive with the message they're currently promoting. I do have the advantage of an immediate deadline and ability to tell the rep "then I'll have to put on the air that your agency was non-responsive in a phone interview."  But I try to avoid that. Instead I ask for supervisors, explain that I'll be calling back multiple times and that as i understand it part of their job is educating the public on their agency. That last line usually gets at least some answers.  It can be incredibly frustrating and I'm sorry you encountered it. Good luck!   :)
#18 - February 01, 2013, 12:02 AM

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I like the idea of naming a villain after him. :-)

Go over the person's head to their supervisor.
#19 - February 01, 2013, 11:14 AM
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Oh, Steph, I like that "part of their job is to educate the public" part.  But I especially grinned at the on-air non-responsive part. Great leverage, lol.
#20 - February 01, 2013, 08:42 PM
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