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Blind loyalty could explain why GSA employees didn't report lavish spending

Ted Landphair

May 06, 2012

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is caught up in a scandal, accused of wasteful spending on lavish conferences and executive travel to exotic locations.

It's the perfect example of what a toxic office culture can lead to, according to David Gebler, a lawyer, corporate consultant and author of the upcoming book, "The Three Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance."

The GSA - an independent government agency with a $26-billion annual operating budget - owns, leases, and manages federal buildings, including department headquarters, courthouses and post offices across the country.

A public furor erupted after the news media reported the agency had spent more than $800,000 to hold a regional conference for just 300 employees in Las Vegas in 2010.

According to investigators, a top agency administrator had used taxpayer money to pay for several so-called “scouting trips” to the Nevada gambling mecca for him and his wife, who was not a government employee.

At the conference, the agency spent lavishly on receptions and dinners, parties in private rooms, and amenities such as clown and mind readers’ shows and commemorative coins and T-shirts for each person who attended.

Members of Congress who directed withering questions at GSA administrators in hastily-called hearings last month after the scandal broke, wondered where the “whistleblowers” had been for more than a year. A whistleblower is an informer who exposes wrongdoing. Turns out, the agency’s own inspector general, Brian Miller, informed the public about the spending excess after his own lengthy probe.

Corporate watchdog David Gebler writes that “good employees do bad things when they’re part of an unhealthy culture of ‘Don’t ask too many questions’ or ‘I know this is wrong, but it’s not my problem.’”

He says it’s all too easy for what he calls “boss-pleasers” and “team players” to look the other way when they shouldn’t.

“Loyalty is not a good thing when it creates a culture of “‘I know this is bad, but it’s not my decision,’” Gebler says.

After the spending spree was revealed, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson apologized to the American people for what she termed "a raucous, extravagant, arrogant, self-congratulatory event." She resigned and two of her top aides, who led the activities in Las Vegas, were fired.

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