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When the Government Man Violated the Rules

It is time again for another blog., At the risk of being a bit repetitious, 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. It’s holiday time so this blog will be short. The anecdote was cut from the book due to space limitations. It deals with some of the annoying wastes of time that managers of a production oriented function often have to deal with in order to give others the illusion of complying with the letter of the law, no matter how silly the situation might be. I am sure there will be people who disagree with my choice in this case and the merits can be debated indefinitely, depending upon how much time one chooses to waste. If I was still working this would have been an admission of guilt and an invitation to at least a letter of counseling. Professor Parkinson would have loved it. Precious time was wasted on minutia while more significant issues are passed over without discussion.

When I moved further up in management I became very familiar with the piranhas that spend their careers overseeing things like travel vouchers and administrative reports, looking for a gotcha.

In a perfectly innocent intention, one of my female employees was stranded overnight in Washington due to a severe storm, a classic opportunity for overseer types to apply more punishment. With no extra cash and no personal credit card available she went into Macy’s and charged a pair of pantyhose, a modestly priced dress and some personal items on her Government credit card, clearly against the rules but understandable under the circumstances. When she arrived home the following day she immediately sent a check to Visa for the personal items, far in advance of receiving the statement, which would have included all of her other travel expenses as well. When this was discovered by our administrative services commandos, as her boss I ended up writing about a half dozen explanatory memos as to why she charged the pantyhose and dress and why I was not taking disciplinary action. Every minute I spent discussing pantyhose was time away from managing a few hundred million dollars in construction.

On a particularly bad day I received still another call asking for more information and directing that I counsel the employee. I was threatened that the case will go to the Inspector General. I could take it no more. “I’m not wasting any more time on this. Tell your boss to do what she wants. Report it to the IG. Report it to DOJ for a full investigation. Confiscate the pantyhose, but don’t bother me any more. I’m not answering anymore asinine questions.” Slam went the receiver. I called the employee and said, “Remember your personal credit card next time you travel,” thus fulfilling my counseling directive.

I received still another memo, slapping me on the wrist for my disrespect and assuring that our administrative guru would have the last word. The issue then disappeared, never to rear its head again. I estimated that between me, my employee and the administrative services types, about fifty managerial man-hours were wasted. I was told that Legal also weighed in on this important transgression. I should also point out that while this was going on, at least two political appointees were under investigation for far more serious violations of credit card use and had thus far gone unpunished. I was not about to discipline a working stiff for a judgment call while clear violations were swept under.

Does this story strike a chord?

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

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