Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Innumerate Accountant

During the years that I worked as a parenting coach, in addition to providing services I also did all of the administrative work for three related state grants. Which meant, three grant proposals a year. Since the requirements stay pretty much the same each year, once you've made suggested corrections to your basic proposal, it is really a matter of updating last year's proposal, with minimum changes to narrative (my responsibility) and not much more to the budget (the accountant's job). This duty was worked around my case schedule, and in the six week period between when the request for proposal came out and when it was due, I might have to work five or six total hours extra to grind out all three of them. Except for the year of the innumerate accountant. It was the second year of a three-year cycle on all of the grants, which means that we would be getting the same amount of money as the year before, and would just have to adjust for changed expenses. It should have taken no more time for the budgets than for the narrative; there weren't that many changes.

The first I knew that we were in trouble was when the new accountant called me to tell me that we wouldn't have enough money to run one of the programs the next year. I had to come to his office right away. On the way up, I was shaking my head because I knew that the only change to that grant was that we had budgeted for a printer in the current year and had no anticipated equipment expense in the next. Staff had turned over, which meant we would be paying them less than we had paid this year. I was at the top of my salary range (a year after that, the salaries were revised, and I got a large raise and continued to receive them annually, but, at that time, I had topped out.) so my salary was staying the same. We should have had the cost of the printer and the difference between step three and step one staff salaries over what we had spent this year. Common sense should have told him that there was something wrong with his numbers

When I got to his office, he showed me his work. I took one look and said, "$500 and $1,200 are not $49,000." "The adding machine said . . . " "You hit the wrong buttons, because $500 and $1,200 are $1,700. You are $47,300 off." "I can't be! The adding machine said . . ." "Did you run a tape?" Well, no he hadn't run a tape.

The next time he called me to his office, it was to announce that there wasn't enough money in one of the grants to pay salaries, not to mention rent and mileage and . . . Once again, salaries had gone down because I stayed the same and the other three people were new; the budget was for the same amount of money. There was no way the grants wouldn't cover less with the same amount of money. He knew what he knew and I had to come up to his office!

Once again, up I went. Asked him to show me. Looked at the numbers and could immediately see the problem. "Why," I asked as patiently as I could, "are you charging a third of my salary to this grant?" "Well," he explained with condescending patience to the stupid little woman, "this is your hourly rate, times 52 weeks, times 5 days, times 3 hours a day." "I only work 3 hours a week administering that grant. How about my hourly rate times 52 weeks times 3 hours a week?" "Are you sure?" "Look, when this amount of money was enough last year and the expenses for the grant have gone down this year, it has to be an error in the math. As a matter of fact, why don't you just copy all the things that stay the same from last year's budget, and since my salary is one of them you won't run into these problems."

Somewhere along the line over the next six weeks, I asked him what grade he had been in when he started using a calculator. First. Honest to God, first. Which, combined with his refusal to run a tape (they cost money! Of course, reworking the numbers with no idea of where you went wrong, costs a heck of a lot more, but . . .) and his tendency to hit the wrong numbers on any keypad he used, led to my putting in six seven-day weeks of 12-hour days, with exactly one half of a day off. It was made just a little worse by his tendency to ignore information that came in a feminine voice. One of the three programs we administered, and services were delivered by contract by a child care center. All of that grant went for the contract with the center. It was, honest to God, a one item budget. We spent four hours one day with him asking me, "What rent do we charge Parents' Time Out?" and me answering, "Zero. We don't charge PTO anything. We get the grant, we write a check every month to the center for a 12th of the grant. We don't charge them rent." And, half an hour later, "You haven't told me how much rent we charge Parents' Time Out." Finally I was driven to saying, "What number did I put on the budget I sent you for rent?" "You didn't put anything." "I beg to differ," trying not to get any more exasperated than I could avoid, "look at the original I sent. What does the rent say." "Zero." "And why do you suppose that is?" Somewhere after we had repeated this conversation at least four times, I started tallying. I honestly had to show him the tally each time and say, "I've been tallying. As you can see, this is the seventh time we have talked about this. This is the seventh time I've made you look at the original. This is the seventh time you've seen that it says zero." I hate it when I get snotty like that.

For the first four weeks, everything I said, he challenged. Finally I had to start saying things like, "We've been at this for four weeks. Every time I've made a correction, I've shown you the tape. Every time I've made a correction, I've been right and you've been wrong. why would it be different this time?" I will say that the last two weeks, when I said something he did simply accept it. He might forget it and have to ask again, but he did accept it without my having to prove it to him.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that they had a new accountant at the agency very soon. Sadly, it may not surprise you to know that this man set up his own accounting service. It certainly won't surprise you to learn that he closed it after six months, with a number of his clients suing him.

I have no idea how I lived through it. The fact that man is still alive qualifies me for saint points. Lots of saint points. And, I know I got points, 'cause I didn't get overtime. But, what really scares me is if kids are using calculators in the first grade, and even a few engineers are as bad at math as this accountant, for how much longer is it going to be safe to drive over bridges?


AlwaysQuestion said...

My greatest objection to allowing calculators in elementary education is the development of people who don't even blink when 2 times 2 doesn't equal 4. I am mindful of the JPL engineer responsible for burying that Martian lander several meters into the Martian surface because he forgot to convert miles to kilometers.

Betty said...

I once had a boss who asked me how to spell "faux pas". When I spelled it for him, he didn't believe me, and looked it up in the dictionary to be sure. Bastard!

I had another boss who always spelled "input" "iMput". Each time I corrected it, he insisted he was correct, until I patiently showed him the dictionary. I learned to get the dictionary out as soon as I saw what I was going to be typing. Mule!

Anvilcloud said...

He just proves the old adage: "There's no accounting for some people."

Winston said...

I think I know that guy! It is shocking that people like him made it through school, sometimes with high grades, receive certifications, can dress themselves each morning, and make it to work without getting killed. You see the breed in any profession or occupation, but accounting does seem to garner more than an equal share of the weirdos.

This reminds me of the rant I had on my post earlier today about what I called TDD, or Thinking Deficit Disorder.

Machiavelli said...

---Maya's Granny said...

And your interview questions are:
1. Why did you name yourself Machiavelli?
2. What three qualities do you have in common with Machiavelli?
3. What is the most Machiavellian thing you have ever done?
4. What is your best trait?
5. What would you choose if you were allowed to choose a super power for a day, and what would you do with it?---

1. I named myself Machiavelli because he was the first person in history to understand politics. I'm a close second.

2. Machiavelli and I both: believe in the relevance of political realism (as opposed to idealism), agree that scrambled eggs are overrated, and seem to constantly exude super-amazingness.

3. The most Machiavellian thing I've ever done is get expelled from Florence.

4. A tie between my uber-hilarity and my mega-fantasticness.

5. My super power would be the ability to turn pudding into jello because jello is far superior in every way. If I couldn't do that, I'd like the ability to either speak to mosquitoes or turn wine into water...for obvious reasons.

Maya's Granny said...

I had a boss who spelled entre on tray and a secretary who changed the onus I had written (remember the days of writing things on yellow pads for your secretary to type?) to on us.

ShortWoman said...

This guy makes me feel a lot better about my own math skills... and totally vindicated for making my little guy do Kumon. How did he ever pass the CPA exam?

Sometimes, the only thing more annoying than a know-it-all is a know-it-all who really *doesn't*, particularly when they ignore people who try to point out pertinent facts.

Bronze Dog said...

Was tracking my site traffic and bumped into you. That must have been a truly painful experience. I would have started making tallies on his forehead.