Welcome to another blog. I am a retired Senior Executive (GSA) and the author of a recently published book, Confessions of a Government Man: How to Succeed in Any Bureaucracy.
This post is another book excerpt, abbreviated and cleaned up for family entertainment. It deals with a situation I encountered during my career which, if nothing else, proves that in government service you can be down but you’re never out and can come back to greater heights. In this particular episode I went from hero to bum to hero in short order. An underlying issue is how a political appointee’s impulsive actions became an embarrassment to the agency.
It was strange how I became in charge of the Foley Square project. I had just been removed as director of the Real Estate Division in the region. That job was considered one of the toughest in all of GSA and I was rather proud that I lasted for eight and a half years in that capacity. In the eleven GSA regions, thirty three real estate directors had come and gone during my tenure so it is understandable that I did not consider it a dishonor to be relieved of my duties.
There was only one problem. When our regional administrator, the impulsive Stormin’ Norman Pearson (not real name) removed me, he was certain he had a replacement in the form of a promising young manager in our Atlanta office. He promised him the world to come to New York including a variety of undeliverable perks.
The candidate backed out and Norman had to send his emissary to request that I stay on after he announced that I was being replaced. It was like a divorce lawyer telling you not to move out of the house until your spouse remarries. This was an embarrassment to the political side of the agency. The career side understands this and laughs it off as still another political blunder.
While this was happening I was a lame duck. I couldn’t institute any initiatives because it would be left for someone else, who might have other ideas, to carry out. I couldn’t rely on the regional administrator for personal or program support because he had already, in effect, fired me. If he agreed with me on anything it would be a sign of weakness on his end.
This little fiasco went on for six months until a replacement was found who had some semblance of qualifications and was willing to take the job. The new person came from an administrative background with no experience in real estate or the pressures of a position at that level.
During my lame duck period it was generally agreed by my superiors and the worried human resources staff that I would move to a nebulous staff position which served no purpose other than to warehouse a body until something else came along or the political boss left. Over the years I found that this was common in government so I didn’t take it personally. On the positive side, at GSA you can be down but you’re never out. I’ve known many people, not to mention myself, who went from purgatory to greater heights than ever.
While I was still on death row awaiting execution, my pardon came in the form of a new project funded by Congress in record time and which was to be assigned to the region for completion. The region was notified by central office that within twenty four hours, it must name a project manager for the mega “Foley Square Project.” Translated, this meant find someone with an impressive resume who was available without a major reshuffling of management and who would be reasonably certain not to embarrass the agency.
Now Stormin’ Norman sent the same emissary who delivered my execution message to plead with me to take this new responsibility. It was a proposed reconciliation. It was never my nature to take the easy route, so although I knew my decision, I mulled it overnight to not appear overanxious and to let the establishment have time to regret my original planned lethal injection. By eight the next morning I was back in the game with the grand announcement that I would become “Project Executive” for this billion dollar undertaking. I went from a bum to a savior overnight.
I bring this up now, because throughout this book I use “Foley Square” for an array of examples of my rules for survival in the bureaucracy and a multitude of anecdotes under the general theme of “What you see is not always what you get.”