Stories like those that have recently surfaced regarding the antics of the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA) illustrate the blatant disregard some government agencies have for taxpayers.
The recent stories stemmed from the release of a report by the GSA inspector general, which criticized the agency for using public funds in a way that is “incompatible” with the agency’s obligation to be a “responsible steward of the public’s money.”
That seems like an accurate, if understated, assessment.
Among the highlights (or, rather, low lights) in the report is a 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas in which about 300 GSA employees squandered $822,000 of the taxpayers’ money on food, beverages, and parties.
The report led to the resignation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, dismissal of two of her deputies, and other staffers being placed on leaves of absence.
It has been reported that, in a letter to the GSA, Johnson said, “I feel I must step aside as administrator so that the agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team.”
That was awfully big of her.
“As the agency Congress has entrusted with developing the rules followed by other federal agencies for conferences, GSA has a special responsibility to set an example, and that did not occur here,” the inspector general report said.
Well, the GSA did set an example. It was just an extremely poor one.
Total cost of catered food and beverages was $146,527.
The agency also spent $6,325 on commemorative coins recognizing employees’ work on the economic stimulus.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD.), reportedly said the report revealed a “gross abuse of taxpayer dollars and a breach of public trust.”
That seems like another fair assessment.
Among my favorite quotes from this situation was one from a GSA spokesman who said that the agency was “appalled” by the inspector general’s findings and promised to consider further disciplinary action and reforms.
“The General Services Administration has made eliminating excessive spending and promoting efficiency one of its top priorities and is taking steps to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” the agency said in a statement.
One would certainly hope so.
It has also been reported that GSA executive Jeff Neely took five trips totaling 44 days, including 17 days to Hawaii, Guam and Saipan that he and his wife planned as a birthday celebration, AFTER the agency’s inspector general warned top officials about his excesses.
This is an indication of the arrogance of some of those involved.
One representative suggested there was a “culture of fraud, waste, corruption” at the agency. That seems true, but it doesn’t go quite far enough.
It is bad when excesses like those at the GSA take place during boom times, but it is unconscionable when they occur under the economic conditions that have prevailed over the past few years.
During a period when businesses and individuals across the nation have been cutting back and struggling to get by, there are people in government living a life of extravagant excesses on the taxpayers’ dime.
The fact that a public agency would even contemplate such a lavish bacchanalia at this time defies imagination. Perhaps, though, it is just an indication of the type of vile cancer that has been allowed to fester on the fetid carcass of government.
Clearly not all government employees are swine. But why have those in the ranks who are conscientious and responsible public servants not stepped forward sooner to blow the whistle on this kind of behavior?
Why have elected officials not made it clear that this kind of abuse of power would not be tolerated and then made sure it wasn’t tolerated?
Why have we, as citizens, not demanded that there are systems in place to prevent this kind of irresponsible waste?
And the question remains, what should be done with those who have committed these offenses?
There is a part of me that would like to give these miscreants a creative punishment that fits their actions.
If they want to party like drunken emperors at taxpayer expense, we could throw them a party of the kind the Romans used to throw during their heyday.
We could organize it in a colosseum, and the violators could be the guests of honor and the main course. We could invite a pride of lions to keep them company, and crowds of appreciative taxpayers could fill the stands and watch the fun.
There might be more justice in that than simply allowing the guilty to simply resign and avoid consequences.
But we are more civilized than that, even if some of those in the public trust, like the slime balls at the GSA, are not.
At the very least, though, we should make sure that those responsible are prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law, and never allowed to work in the public sector again.
And we should demand, not just request, that there are systems in place to prevent corruption and abuse, as well as protection for those insiders who report it if they do occur.