GovHelp – Making Lemonade Out of GSA’s Lemons

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 8 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #158302

    Stephen Peteritas

    GSA had a bad week this past week. They got busted in Vegas. It’s basically the government equivalent of your spouse finding out you blew your nest egg at the tables. Obviously, there are repercussions and the ax has already fallen on some but what about the rest of us?

    Huh? The rest of us? Well I’m talking about all the GSA employees and even as far as the federal government as a whole. Martha Johnson took the fall, but now everyone is experiencing the fall out. The public doesn’t view the head of GSA as the only person involved and they don’t view GSA as just GSA they view it as the government. It’s sounds harsh but this is a federal government problem and public relations nightmare. How can we deal with it?

    So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of GSA:
    • How can we get out of this situation?
    • How can we make lemonade out lemons?
    Let’s not only help GSA, but ultimately help the whole government and its overall perception.

  • #158326

    Henry Brown


    Suspect that the leadership of the numerous government agencies have ALREADY learned the importance of transparency.

    It is too bad that this event saw the light of day 18 months after the event and after the election of 2010, which significantly changed the operating environment, especially in the federal work place.

    I believe that MOST of them do in fact realize that now and are more aware of how/where monies are being spent…

    To increase the transparency of all budgetary expenditures, although I am not sure that it is overly practical, if every agency was to “post” training dollars (and other overhead expenses) and the expected ROI that there could be a significant reduction in less than ideal spending

  • #158324


    Finally show the public that ALL the culprits will be FIRED. Not just shifted to another position or put on admin leave with pay. Do not allow the execs and managers in the loop to take their early retirements, or DOCK them a year’s salary. (Oh my that’s just too harsh isn’t it)

    It was appalling that that an unprofessional 20-something got away with that video. The conference was a terrible decision for the boone doggle but the video was even worse. It reemphasizes the callousness and arrogance that is being perceived by the public and puts a terrible stereotype out there for all the hard working federal workers that do respect tax payer money take their jobs seriously.

    Another idea that would go along way with the public would be to get out all the old IG and GAO reports and actually start making changes to reduce the duplication and waste reported in those reports. Hold press conferences on the status and put more performance metrics in place at all levels of all agencies and make all people accountable. The government has to start running like a business with a bottom line.

  • #158322

    Pattie Buel

    Question – In a vacuum, how many folks would say $2700/employee for a four day conference is unreasonable? Esp if you assume that $2700 includes all airfare and lodging. If you were the person charged with approving the expense, would you? How many of us have been to a 4 or 5 day class that costs $1700 – $2200 a seat?

    I have no clue about who saw what and when in terms of the expenses. Maybe someone did see the $822K figure and think $2700 per isn’t bad. Maybe no one added up all the pieces and parts until it was too late to cancel or even after it was over. But I think one lesson learned is to find out what constitutes the cost and make sure there is one document that captures ALL projected expenses associated with the outing.

  • #158320

    Stephen Peteritas

    Good points Pattie. All I can say is that the price on these conferences are insane as a whole in the government. I doubt they are no different than industry prices but still as an employer I would much rather pay 2000+ for a certification or even college or continuing education classes than a 5 day conference. Maybe I just don’t know the cost of doing business but that’s my opinion.

  • #158318

    A good point for sure. My husband, who works in the private sector, did not see anything wrong with the expense until I reminded him GSA used taxpayer money for such activities. His company spends tens of thousands of dollars a year for him to go to conferences, meetings, clients, etc. It is just normal for them. Still, the federal government is answering to the American people; his company only answers to shareholders, who earn more each time the company puts on one of these events. It seems like it is just a matter of perspective.

  • #158316

    Ann McFarlane

    Although $2700/person does not sound bad on the surface, if a private firm had sponsored the conference, that $2700 would have paid for the scouting trips, the organizing, the production of materials, etc. I’m sure the $800+k did not include staff time to do all that – just the expenses involved – the actual costs were undoubtedly much higher.

    Also, I realize this was in 2010, but frugality and transparency has been around a lot longer than that. And so have GSA regulations on procurement. I think that’s what bothers me the most – they did not follow their own requirements for conferences. GSA should be held to a higher standard – they write the rules. I don’t care for the “do as I say, not as I do” culture. Things like this color all government workers – not just federal.

  • #158314

    Jane Hendron

    In my opinion, GSA has already fallen behind in terms of getting out of the black hole of negativity. They have nothing on their website that even alludes to the fact they had a major shakeup in the agency. No news release telling the public they want to earn their trust back. Fact is, when a Federal agency makes a big mistake like this or there is a cloud of suspicion about wrong-doing, there needs to be leadership willing to take a front and center position and say “we are going to make this right.”

    If GSA is going to re-focus employees on ethics through office-based training then say so – show the public what the agency is doing moving forward. In my opinion, simply replacing front page of their website with the new Director’s photo isn’t going to cut in my book. It would give them something to point to when the inevitable congressional hearing comes along later this month…..

  • #158312

    Stephen Peteritas

    Ok, so I want to steer this back to a solution. Obviously what’s done is done. How does GSA get back on track of fixing their image? I mean they still have to buy things and provide them for the government (that can’t stop) so what type of purchasing campaign could they start that would be a great use of money to make up for the bad use at the conference?

  • #158310

    Alan L. Greenberg

    This was a political hatchet job gone wild. See my blog post today under The Governmenent Man for my blunt opinion of this fiasco. Yes, there was some poor judgment here but the real issue is the attempt at political sabotage which is now haunting the agency. No amount of bs from pr types will alleviate this.

    It is now strictly damage control and sweeping it away with arbitrary and possibly illegal actions will not solve it. GSA has to methodically explain what the problem is (and not in the inflammatory terms of the IG freport), what management controls are being established and who, if anyone, made mistakes in judgment so severe as to warrant disciplinary. Not find people to use as scapegoats and then say everything is fine.

    The events surrounding the IG report remind me of thre final scene in Godfather I. First a massacre and siezure of power, then “All family business has been taken care of.” (Or wording to that effect – I don’t remember the exact words))

  • #158308

    Bob Suda

    Let GSA solve the problem internally. This is a management issue and I know Dan will ensure the controls are in place to ensure things like this don’t happen. The few people in the agency that caused this to happen should be dealt with accordingly, but you cannot brush the entire agency with this black eye. There are hard working very dedicated civil servants that work at GSA. They are doing great work for the taxpayer. And there has been no discussion about the training sessions and if they were beneficial to the employees who attended. Also those employees should not be painted with the same brush. In addition Las Vegas should not get a black eye. That same conference could have been held in you name it, Houston , TX and the same thing could have happened. And now the costs of the media backlash and Congressional hearings may cost more than the actual expenses of the training session.

  • #158306

    Carol Davison

    This training professional’s thoughts:

    At $2,700 for a five day conference I would imagine this conference was designed for leaders to attend. Aren’t most of them located in DC? Then why didn’t they hold the conference there, where the cost for lodging, per diem, travel expenses would be minimized as well as travel time to the conference? This change of venue justificaiton, or because my supervisor calls me back to work escuse doesn’t fly by me. They can call you just as easily in Las Vegas.

    GSA has an outstadning reputation for hiring and developing its employees. What happened?

  • #158304

    Henry Brown

    IMO an Interesting story from the Washington Post political section would guess that one of the reasons it is NOT catching as much “heat” because the conference is being conducted by judicial branch…

    The simmering dispute between two senators and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit over a judicial conference in Maui in August doesn’t seem headed for resolution anytime soon.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), and his counterpart on the Budget Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), wrote the circuit’s chief judge, Alex Kozinski, on May 18 asking why, in these tough budget times, the yearly conference had to be held in a pricey “island paradise.” It’s at the Hyatt Regency Maui.

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