“Tiger By The Tail” – Pet Peeve

We are all humans and tend to make mistakes. (Well, consistent and predictable mistakes will be an issue! :-). One of my Pet Peeves is watching Tasks or Action Items disappear into a Black Hole. I am sure we all have experienced (or caused) such an event some time or the other. I am no saint in this matter either. I too have had occasions, where I might have dropped the ball (atleast from other’s perspective).

Typical examples are as follows.

(01) Scenario1:

Date: Januray 4th, 2011

Person A, “Hey B, Is it possible for you to do task XYZ?”

Person B, “Sure. No problem!”

Person A, “When do you think you can complete it?”

Person B, “I should be done in 2 days”.

Person A, “Great! Please let me know once you are done”.

Date: January 20th, 2011

Person B, “Hi A. Welcome back from the trip. Hope your trip went fine”.

Person A, “Hi B, Sure. The trip went as planned. Thanks for asking. Are you done with XYZ? I did not hear anything on it”.

Person B, “Oh! Actually, I did not get a chance to complete it. There were riots in Brazil, Tsunami happened in Indonesia and Conservatives won the Elections in Australia”.

Person A (In his/her mind), “What??!!”

(02) Scenario2:

Date: January 4th, 2011

Location: An important meeting is going on.

Person A, “Okay, let me recap all the Action Items. B will do items X, Y and Z. B, can you track these items and make sure they are completed as per the agreed-to schedule, which is within a week?”

Person B, “Of course! No problem.”

Date: January 20th, 2011

Person B, “Hi A. I have completed the Action Items from the January 4th Meeting”.

Person A, “Great! Can I have the update?”.

Person B, “Sure! I will email you”.

Date: January 20th, 2011.

Person A gets Person B’s email.

Person A (After reviewing the email, in his/her mind): “I wonder what happened to Action Item Y? He updates only on X and Z”.

Well, the above two are simple scenarios and this can be played out in many different ways. In complex projects, with insane scehdules, and Engineers getting pulled in all directions, it is very understandable that there will be occasional mis-steps. Also, it can be argued that a Manager or Project Lead’s job is to monitor all the activities and ensure that they are proceeding well, I believe it will be beneficial from the Engineer’s own standpoint to minimize the risk of micro-managing from the Boss, which will happen if he/she loses confidence in the Engineer’s ability to keep his/her own promises most of the time.

The onus is on the word, “Occasional”.

The best solution is to diligently keep track of open Action Items, plan properly and update the status on time and conclusively. My boss has a lot of things to worry about and the last thing I want to saddle him with is worrying if I am keeping track of my own Action Items, which I myself have agreed to.

Sounds simple, aint it? 🙂

Adios …

California – Budget, Taxes & CalPERS!

In USA, I have only stayed in California. It is sad to see the State detoriate as much as it has over the past few years. Over the past several weeks, I have taken a closer look at the health of the State. Why, you may ask. Well, I pay significant USD to the state every year, in terms of Personal Income Taxes and Sales Taxes etc. Similar to how a person would be careful with his/her money when he/she buys a product or invest somewhere, I would like to have a better idea of how the money I provide is being used.

References:

(a) www.ebudget.ca.gov

(b) www.calpers.ca.gov

(c) www.calpersresponds.com

(d) CBS articles

(e) NPR articles

(f) LA Times Articles

First of all, I must apologize for the thought I was carrying for a long time that most of the Public Employees get insane Pensions throughout their Retirement. The average per-year Pension in CA is 25000-36000 USD, which while being nothing to scoff at, is nowhere close to the kind of amounts I was thinking of (and getting worked up over).

I have tried to take as impartial a look as I can, into this matter. Political rhetoric may say something totally different, but it is best to block all that noise out.

There are a lot of good things my Taxes pay for. Roads, Public Schools, Libraries, Law & Order, Fire Department etc. I am very happy to pay them. I am just trying to figure out which hands are currently in the “Cookie Jar”. Obviously, there are a LOT of hands! Else we would not be in the current situation …

California Budget Highlights:

– The State is 25 Billion USD in the red.

– CA Budget runs at around 95 Billion USD per year.

– Almost 50% of the State Income comes from Personal Income Taxes. 25% comes from Sales Taxes. 10% comes from Corporate Taxes.

– 30% of the State Expenses are for K-12 Education. Health & Human Services (HHS) takes around 30% (HHS gets another 55B from “Other” sources. Not really sure what they are). Higher Education gets 10%.

Governor Jerry Brown is proposing an increase of the overall Education part (K-12 + Higher) of the Budget to 55%. I am all for investing in Education. Having used California State University myself, I appreciate the funding it gets. (Is it well used?)

California has 21 “Collective Bargaining” entities! That is a lot of pull right there, with respect to the Legislative Process. Just as Corporations milk their employees, seems to me that the Unions are no saints either.

A closer look at CalPERS:

– California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS), started in 1932.

– 1.6 Million State Employees contribute to it (CA State Population is 37 Million. I.e. 4.5% are State Employees!)

– Around 500K people get State Pensions and Benefits currently.

– In 2009, 11 Billion USD was paid in Retirement Benefits. I.e. Around 22000 USD (average) per Beneficiary (by my calculation).

– CalPERS has around 200 Billion USD in Assets (It was at 260B in 2007), making it by far the largest Employee Trust Fund in the Country and an Entity that holds a lot of sway. A stock CalPERS invest in is bound to go up! It is apparently called “CalPERS Effect”!

– The typical Benefits include Pension, Health Care, Death/Disability Benefits etc.

– Public Employee contributes 5-10% of their Salary. Employers (e.g. Schools) contribute a lot as well. (Where does the “Employers” get their funding? From Taxes! I.e. Us). Currently, around 16% is paid by the State. California State pays around 3-4 Billion USD every year to CalPERS.

– Of every 1$ paid in Benefits, around 64c comes from CalPERS Investments, so they claim.

– A typical CalPERS Beneficiary gets around 50% of Salary as the Pension, during retirement.

– “Spiking”! No it is not a Volleyball term. This is the name for Public Employees gaming the system by mucking around with their “Final Year Pay”, the benchmark for their future Pensions. Apparently, in 2003, a Law was passed to address this fraud. I am not sure if it has stopped this practice entirely.

– An Average Beneficiary gets around 25000 USD in Benefits during each year of Retirement, as pre CalPERS. 75% gets less than 36000 USD per year. Around a 1000 Employees get > 100000 USD per year (Typically, Cops, High Officials etc.). Such folks are said to be in the “100K Club”.

Summary:

California is in trouble. No doubt. Just look at the state of our Schools, Roads etc. Estimates are that each California Resident is paying around 3000 USD per year, to fund the Pensions, which personally, do not strike me as too bad. We are referring to folks who have worked for a lot of years for the State and I do not think anyone would want to deny them a reasonable retirement. California Pensions are guaranteed by State Law! If CalPERS cannot pay, then State has to pony up. I.e. California Tax Payers have to. Over the years, a lot of bad investments (a lot of graft is alleged), especially during 2008-10, kickbacks etc. has ensured that there is an almost 500 Billion USD in guaranteed, but unfunded Pension liabilities. Though the State is trying its best to limit the Pensions for new State Employees, the jury is out on its effectiveness.

As I mention above, I do not see the Pensions as being overly excessive. 25000 USD is the average. The Employees as well as the Employers seem to be contributing a lot to it. So, why the 500 Billion shortfall?

Health of Social Security …

Over the past few years, we have been hearing a lot about the doomsday predictions regarding the US Social Security Scheme. We all are lavishly paying top $$$ into the fund and I thought about doing some investigation into where all this money is going. At the same time, I wanted to be able to predict the chances of me getting benefits in future.

Quick One-Line Summary: Though I will probably get Social Security Benefits, it will be only a fraction of what I should have been getting, based on my contributions.

SSA (Social Security Administration, www.ssa.gov) gets its yearly income from SS Taxes, which we all pay, whether we like it or not. The major expense of the SS Fund is the payment of benefits. There are other expenses incurred while running the SS Fund, just like with any Mutual Fund and such. As you probably know, both the Employers and Employees pay into the SS Fund.

I went through the SSA Trustee’s Financial Reports for the past decade.

2001: 46 Million people were getting SS Benefits. 153 Million people were contributing into the SS Fund. Total Income (I.e. Taxes) was 602 Billion USD. The Total Expense (I.e. Mainly Benefits) was 432 Billion USD. The overall SS Fund had 1.2 Trillion USD “surplus”.

2010: 53 Million people were getting SS Benefits. 156 Million people were contributing into the SS Fund. Total Income (I.e. Taxes) was 807 Billion USD. The Total Expense (I.e. Mainly Benefits) was 686 Billion USD. The overall SS Fund has 2.5 Trillion USD “surplus”.

Things look under control? The main problems:

(01) Medical advancements ensure that people live much longer than what the blokes who set up SSA imagined (which is a good thing. Who wouldnt wish that people live happy, healthy and longer lives?). Such a scenario results in benefits being availed of for a longer duration of time, per average beneficiary.

(02) A huge portion of the Work Force, the so-called Baby Boomers are set to retire over the next few years, putting even more strain on the system. As per SSA’s own projections, in 2016, SSA will be pulling in lesser Income that its Expense. Note that over the past decade or so, SSA always managed to get in more Income that what it had to pay out.

(03) Where is all this Surplus stored? In Government Bonds! I.e. Indirectly, we have almost the entire SSA Surplus invested in US Government Debt.

Now, considering all this, you think US Government (a.k.a Politicians) should be more careful with the ample Taxes that they bring in? It appears to me that both Democrats and Republicans, irrespective of the Election rhetoric, once they get into Office, loves to spend like Millionaires, using the “Credit Card” we provide them through our Taxes …

“Early AM to Early PM” Work Timing …

When I drive down to the Office, I always notice quite a bit of traffic on the freeways. This hold true even on days when I am REALLY early (by my normal standards). Most of the people I know (in fact, a healthy 99%+) like to come in late and stay up late.

My doubt it: Where do all these folks, who are on the freeways during early AM, work?

I sure do not see many in our Campus. A handful of folks are all there is, till people start to come in later on in the morning. As I mention elsewhere in my Blog, I personally do not advocate one work timing or the other. It all depends on your natural instincts and also on what makes sense in your work environment. I even have a colleague who comes in at 1AM and goes to sleep at 7PM! I have to tip my hat off to him. Something tells me that he is single 🙂

My friends who work in Banks do go early (I.e. Very early) and that is understandable with the typical bank timings in US. Maybe all those folks I see on the freeways are all predominantly bank employees …