The Government Man, the Lawyer and the Donuts

The Government Man is just back from a most enjoyable visit to the Federal Senior Management Conference in Cambridge, MD. I thank the sponsors for the invitation.

First a little self promo. My book, Confessions of a Government Man, is now available in all e-book formats as well as paperback.

Now for today’s blog, which is another book excerpt. My last blog featured some judge bashing. For this one I will return to my old favorite, lawyer bashing, or in this case, how a lawyer can make much ado about nothing.

While working on our Foley Square construction project our esteemed counsel found a way to create an issue over a plate of donuts.

Each short-listed bidder, as part of the process, had to make a formal presentation of their proposed design and project management plan for the new courthouse. One of the bidders was a consortium of a major developer, a major architectural firm, and a large builder. I will refer to the presenter as “Bidder 502.”

The Bidder 502 designation came about because a design jury of prominent architects evaluated initial proposals and in accordance with accepted procedure, they were not to know the identity of the bidders. We hadn’t thought about how we were going to code the submissions so when I received an inquiry from a developer I looked behind me at the plastic bag under my credenza with a pair of Levi 501 jeans I bought at lunchtime. “Mark your drawings ‘501’” I told the bidder. When the submissions from all the bidders came in they were coded 501 through 505.

For the morning of their scheduled presentation Bidder 502 asked that we set up a speakers’ podium, a screen, a table in the front to display the models and a table in the back for an undisclosed purpose. No problem.

It turns out that the rear table was for coffee and donuts, delivered by a local caterer. They had actually asked me if this was OK a few days before. I saw no problem with a modest spread limited to just the coffee and the donuts. There is nothing improper about this, even in rigid government circles.

The fireworks started soon enough. When Frank Bennett, the Managing Partner of 502’s New York office got up to introduce the team members and begin the presentation, a shriek came from the rear. “Excuse me! Excuse me! Before we start I have an announcement,” said our learned counsel, “Sweet” Caroline Taylor, as she bolted to the podium as if she was about to tell Bennett that his fly was open.

Caroline, who was the regional ethics officer, seized the microphone. Some of the development and government team members looked in my direction. Knowing that whatever was about to happen would not be good, I slowly slithered downward.

“Our developers have generously provided coffee and donuts for us,” she told us, as if we didn’t notice. “As you know there are restrictions on government employees accepting gifts (A donut is now a gift?). If you plan to have coffee or a donut you should leave payment in the cup on the table. A fair price would be fifty cents for coffee and fifty cents for a donut.”

The development team looked at me. I was only able to shrug my shoulders and roll my eyes. The damage was done. Their momentum was halted. My own people looked at me but they witnessed similar drills in the past so it wasn’t as startling.

Frank and his team were dumbfounded by this turn of events. He lost his whole train of thought on this presentation of a $300 million project because of a coffee and donuts issue. The presentation continued although most were already distracted.

Caroline, as things would have it, had no change with her and borrowed the fifty cents from her assistant for her coffee. At the end of the day there was fifty cents in the cup and a whole lot of leftover coffee and donuts. Nobody wanted to be seen approaching the table because they knew Caroline would come up to them to assure they made payment.

We ended up spilling out the cold coffee and inviting all (except the legal staff) to come to our office for donuts that afternoon.

As things turned out, the 502 team, for all of its efforts, never got the contract. They maintained that they lost out because of a poor presentation.

I will post more delightful silliness excerpted from the book 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 to Amazon.com or your favorite online supplier. I can be reached at [email protected].

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How was FedSMC? Sorry I missed you.

Oh I love the donation jar. I remember when I was a fed and spoke at the government scholarship luncheon which I had received and is run by government. All students got free but for “ethics reasons” they said, I had to pay $20…

Peg Hosky

Alan, your talk at FedSMC http://www.fedsmc.com was very well received! You have a folksy, anecdotal style that was fun to watch. the audience laughter was infectious! Glad you could stay awhile, and you seemed to find some fun folks from GSA to talk to, like the I.G., for one. 🙂 thanks for spending time at the conference!