I am sure that I will annoy more than a few people with my take on the matter.
Most of my prior posts were intended as fun items, and were based on the book I wrote about my experiences in my 38 years with GSA. This post, however, is quite serious because things are getting ugly with the GSA scandal.
I am a retired GSA senior executive. I had been an assistant regional administrator, PBS (now known as regional commissioner), the very position of the four managers now on administrative leave and taking the brunt of this fiasco.
Having stated that as background, allow me to make a few comments about this IG report and the media circus surrounding it.
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I don’t condone lavish spending – my record proves that – and some of the people involved in this caper may have exercised poor judgment, assuming one believes everything in the report, BUT this report absolutely wreaks of a political hatchet job, designed to bounce Bob Peck and to discredit reputable senior managers. Martha Johnson had been chief of staff at GSA from 1996 to 2001 and now all of a sudden conferences are a new issue? The conference which was the subject of the report is not a new event. Ms. Johnson, Mr. Peck, and several others named in the disciplinary proceedings had no material involvement with this unfortunate incident. Martha Johnson’s staged “resignation” is nothing more than her taking a ceremonial hit for the White House for the benefit of the media and congressional overseers in order to give the appearance of swift remedial action.
I was on the receiving end of my share of IG reports so I am quite familiar with the process. This one throws up red flags everywhere. The timing of its release, the use of inflammatory terms and the editorial comments along the way tells me that this report was designed and embellished for the media. The emphasis on ancillary issues combined with silence on the main conference agenda items slants the entire report. The word “training” is conspicuous by its absence.
Giveaways at meetings are nothing new albeit maybe too much was spent here. As a senior manager at GSA I’ve been to many conferences and I have my share of commemorative coins, albums, hats, shirts, jackets, briefcases, pens, gym shorts, tote bags, etc. There is nothing new here and there is no policy against it. In New York we purchased and distributed coins commemorating our involvement in the 9/11 recovery. I didn’t see anybody criticize that.
The whole method in which this IG report was made public, with the reviewer, approver and executioner being the same person, is suspect. Normally an IG report is confidential and includes a response to the draft report from those accused but there is no evidence of that here, unless it was squelched. If the accused had the opportunity to respond I would think a good portion of this report would be discredited. The fact that in a single day the report was issued, released to the media, the action official submitted an action plan, took disciplinary action against several employees and then immediately resigned puts a cloud over the validity of this entire episode.
IG reports serve a useful purpose. This could have been handled internally as is the norm. Deficient management controls would have been addressed and remedied. The “guilty” parties would have gone through due process and faced the consequences. Instead it became the kind of political fiasco that stretches the talents of the most creative PR people. One thing is for sure, and I say this from documented history. When it’s all over, those wrongfully accused or denied due process will litigate against GSA, and GSA will eventually pay dearly for it all to go away. It will be far more than the dollars allegedly “wasted” by the conference. You won’t read about that in the media.