Within the Department of Public Works (DPW), the business services group works behind the scenes rather than in the limelight, a distinction that staff choose when they fill out the volunteer questionnaire. This year the Gerlach business office was a hub of activity for DPW, even though it was not usually at the center of attention. The purchasing department worked out of that office to manage acquisition research, equipment and material purchasing, receiving, bookkeeping, contract drafting, and contacts with locals, vendors, and public officials. Located adjascent to the Gerlach office, the Burning Man Museum hosted small tours and provided volunteer recruitment and merchandise sales.
The rapid growth and increased duties of the DPW business support team heightened the need for cross-training of staff. In January 2001, the DPW purchasing manager moved from Austin, Texas, to San Francisco to work in the Burning Man accounting department. This cross-department role help to establish a connection between the way DPW Nevada operations and the San Francisco accounting office tracked and coded purchases. The system developed through this collaboration was taught to the Gerlach office crew members who arrived in June. A paperwork flow for purchases was maintained through the interlinked offices.
In this way, staff tracked purchases or rentals of lumber, shade cloth, delineators, road stakes, orange trash fence, cones, small tools, generators, machinery, and a multitude of other items for construction and clean-up of Black Rock City and Black Rock Station. Business office staff rented heavy machinery to assist large-scale activities, including the 80-foot crane that lifted the Man into place, and the two 60-foot boom trucks used in building the Café. Generators, bobcats, a forklift, numerous tractors and trucks, trailers, port-a-potties, propane tanks, and other equipment were also rented to support building, moving, housing, and transporting.
In August, the office placed most major orders with vendors and deliveries began. The receiving system was successful despite potential problems due to lack of a single appointed receiver. The office staff maintained a purchase order logbook that specified drop times, connected information on large and varied shipments to those orders, and improved coding of packing slips. The purchasing department projected total actual spending and made appropriate adjustments to orders by comparing packing slips to purchase orders.
Exchanges of accounting information between the desert and the San Francisco office was more efficient than ever before through mass mailings, faxes, and electronic information exchange. Moving multiple offices multiple times was a substantial accomplishment. Equipment and entire teams moved from San Francisco to Gerlach in June, to the event site in August, back to Gerlach in September, and finally back to San Francisco in October.
Some roles within the Gerlach office require staff to live in the desert for months with few amenities, work long hours during the event, and perform in a high-stress environment. Most people live this life during their vacations from their year-round jobs. The pride and strength of this hard-working team is reflected in the excellent services they provide under arduous conditions. The future promises more cross-training, broader vendor relationships, more expansive use of contracts, expanded communication, tight knit organized teams, and increased debriefing.
The successes of this year for the DPW business offices were brought about by teamwork, dedication, and organization. The expansion of this department and tighter coordination with the San Francisco accounting office will promote further successes in purchasing, bookkeeping, and receiving activities of the Burning Man Project as a whole. The DPW business service workers may remain out of the limelight, but they are rock stars.