Scandals lay federal workforce bare

Monday - 4/23/2012, 2:00am EDT

Over the past couple of weeks, people have been learning about the darker side of some federal operations.

To the average overworked, tax-burdened American worker, people in government seem to have it made. Steady, safe jobs. A great retirement plan. A 401(k) to die for and subsidized health insurance for life. That, they already knew.

But now, thanks to a few bad actors at GSA and the Secret Service, the anti-bureaucrat crowd sees feds for what they always suspected they were: Party animals who are so dumb, arrogant and narcissistic that they document their antics and post them on YouTube and Facebook for all the world to see.

The investigation into GSA's desert-doings is a work in progress. But, at the end of the day, most of GSA's 12,000 workers were as surprised as the rest of us and are guilty of nothing but having GSA ID cards. It is also possible that many of the 300 feds at the now-infamous Nevada team builder were about as enthusiastic as aids ordered to attend Emperor Caligula's coming out party. The Secret Service inquiry is going to cost some people their jobs and, maybe many more, their marriages.

Feds come in many flavors. Relatively few are sour. Most are real people, just like us. Behind that bureaucrat front is, nearly always, a very real person. Examples:

Last week the space shuttle Discovery, riding atop a 747, flew over the Washington area, doing three laps around the National Mall. Millions of people here saw it coming into town, on its final journey to the Smithsonian museum near Dulles airport. One of the viewers, a friend, is a retired Nuclear Regulatory Agency, executive. He's normally about as emotional as you would expect a nuclear engineer to be.

Not that day. With his usual precision he checked its ETA and got a good spot on a beltway overpass in suburban Maryland. He expected it to be a historic sighting, but he said when it actually appeared, he felt like crying, because he was so proud to be an American and sad that that portion of the space program is over. Feds have feelings, too.

Also last week Dick Clark, America's oldest teenager, died. He meant a lot to a lot of people, including an admittedly crusty former Marine, now a civilian fed in San Diego. He said Clark's death took him back in time:

"I was 10 years old in 1957, when I was living in New Cumberland, Penn., and watching Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand' every afternoon after school. Fifty-Five years later I, for one, believe the world is better off for his having lived his life as he did.

I can only receive one radio station in this monolith known as the Federal Building in San Diego ... it only plays contemporary easy listening and rock, to which I have grown accustomed, though I never listen to it off duty.

My 'office radio station' just did a momentary format change for one song. It seems that Dick Clark changed the face of television in the late '50s by having the first black singer on 'American Bandstand'. They just played Chuck Berry singing Johnny B. Goode as a tribute to the 'World's Oldest Teenager.'

What goes around comes around. I was 30 years old before I ever attended an NFL football game in person. I remember because it was shortly after Elvis Presley died. I was driving my '74 Honda Civic (what a little brown box it was) home from work via I-70 going from Frederick to Columbia, Md., where I lived at the time. The announcement was made on whatever radio station I was listening to then.

Within a few weeks I was at the exhibition game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Colts in Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium (where I used to watch the Yankees play in the mid-1950s, and almost got beaned once by a foul ball hit by Chicago's legendary second baseman, Nellie Fox, when the White Sox were in town for a series). The pre-game show consisted of Chuck Berry on a raised platform in the stadium seating area in extreme right field along the foul line. He was not even on the playing field! I thought that was beneath him to be placed in such a non-descript location considering his gifts to the world via music. Before he began, he asked for a minute of silence for the 'King of Rock 'n' Roll,' Elvis Presley. That was one of the most magnanimous events I ever witnessed. Many believe that if anyone was the king of rock 'n' roll, then it was Chuck Berry.