The Government Man Confesses – On C-Span

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, where I discuss an application of one of my many “rules.” This episode is a perfect example of many of the familiar clichés we hear at high levels of government – “perception is more important than reality” – “don’t sweat the small stuff” – “don’t believe everything you hear” – “get your priorities in order,” etc. This was another situation where the facts were completely taken over by political wrangling.

Greenberg Rule Number Two: There is no correlation between the size of a project and its
potential for disaster.

Professor Parkinson would have fully understood how the United States Congress appropriated one billion dollars for our signature Foley Square project, consisting of a high rise courthouse and a federal office building in lower Manhattan, with no debate. It was done strictly on the strength of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s
inserting a few sentences into an unrelated piece of legislation after some slick give and take. Yet, after the project was completed, Senators Howard Metzenbaum and John McCain were looking for headlines
and a reason for court and judge bashing, so each held hearings and ordered a full inspector general report and separate Senate task force investigation from which a major conclusion was that the government should have purchased cheaper carpeting for the courtrooms and the judges’ chambers (One billion dollars spent and we’re talking about carpeting!). This conclusion was based on a year long study. It cost more to bring people to the hearings than the amount of the investigated expenses.

Those investigations came at the heels of another self-serving “investigative” report, this time by the office of
Senator Max Baucus, which was so misleading and inaccurate that if it did not come from a government entity, would have bordered on fraud. I wasted a day at a Senate hearing down the street from the Capitol, answering questions about carpeting while the C-Span cameras rolled. After much political posturing the issue abruptly went away when a retired GSA project manager wrote a letter to Senator Baucus with appropriate distribution of copies to other interested parties. The letter contained the detailed response that the GSA administrator refused to allow. If the letter went public, it would have knocked the entire credibility from the Senate reports. It was actually beneficial to the project team and the agency that so much debate centered on such a small issue, because it diverted attention from other avoidable cost excesses (detailed in the book) which went unnoticed.

As a postscript to the story, and a lesson in life cycle costing, the original carpeting is still in place sixteen years later. Had the cheaper carpet been purchased, it would likely have been replaced at least twice, or worse,
would still be in the courtroom in dilapidated condition.

I will post additional book excerpts from time to time. For more information about myself or my book please check out my website, http://www.thegovernmentman.com. For a look inside go Amazon.com.

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