In my last blog I mentioned an episode with our learned GSA counsel over donuts. That was not my only conflict with Sweet Caroline, Esq. over donuts. Yes, these events really happened.
Caroline devoted much of her career to assuring that no government employee ever violated any ethical standards, no matter how much this policy cost in productive hours or how it embarrassed the government. There are always a few bad apples but I doubt if any would sell the government out for coffee and donuts. Nevertheless, Caroline kept vigilance, thankfully spending enough time on this to keep her away from major contracting matters.
Government policy allows acceptance of token food under certain circumstances. There are restrictions, most of which are tied to common business sense and the premise that perception could mean more than reality. If you were seen in a fine restaurant with a contractor, even if you paid your own way, it could be interpreted by an observer as a compromising situation. You avoid those possibilities.
My first conflict over the sinkers came during my tenure as director of real estate. We had some surplus street level space that we were trying to lease out. Prior to issuing a formal solicitation we placed a newspaper ad seeking interest. Among the inquirers was a corporation holding a few Dunkin’ Donuts franchises. They sent a letter requesting a copy of the solicitation (this was pre-online days). Clipped to the top of the page was a coupon advising that the bearer was entitled to two free donuts at “any participating location.” Before passing the letter on to Kevin X. Reilly, Esq., our surplus property guru, I hand wrote a tongue-in-cheek comment on the letter, “Better check with the ethics counselor on the donuts,” with an arrow pointing to the coupon. Anyone who knew me well would have known that I was joking, but not Kevin X. He also had a compassion for all others to be squeaky clean.
Despite his love of donuts he took it upon himself to refer the issue to the ethics counselor. I knew nothing about the referral, the three hours of meetings and the citations from the various sections of the United States Code on the subject. My first hint of this was when a letter to the Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee was presented to me for signature, written by Reilly, but reviewed and edited multiple times by counsel. The original coupon for the two donuts was attached to the letter, which essentially advised that in accordance with US Code, we were not permitted to accept gifts (not so in the case of donuts but I had neither the time or patience to challenge it). The fact that we were returning the “gift” would be no reflection on them and they were still welcome to bid on the surplus space.
Not wishing to waste any more time on this, I merely signed the letter, put the carbon copies in my out box for distribution and ripped up the original. The next morning I had two delicious cinnamon donuts with my coffee.
That was not the final donut episode.
Years later, while working on the Foley Square Project, history repeated itself (see previous blog).
This blog and those before it were excerpted from my book, Confessions of a Government Man (now available in all e-book formats as well as paperback). I will post more delightful silliness from the book from time to time. For more information please check out my website, http://www.thegovernmentman.com or go to Amazon.com or your favorite online supplier. I can be reached at [email protected].
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