A tale of two agencies

Tuesday - 5/29/2012, 2:00am EDT

The longest-running federal story du jour is about the two very different "scandals" starring two very different federal operations:

The U.S. Secret Service which is a household word.

The General Services Administration — which isn't.

Everybody knows, thinks or thought they knew what the Secret Service does. The GSA, on the other hand, is rarely (like never) the subject of a TV series or major motion picture. It is hard to imagine two agencies, part of the same government, that are more different. Yet both are currently wearing the government version of the Scarlet Letter. At least until Congress and the media, both with short attention spans, are diverted or distracted by another scandal elsewhere. Another Kardashian wedding/divorce might do it.

But for now, both agencies are still on the public radar for different reasons.

One, the Secret Service episode is internationally embarrassing and could have national-security ramifications. Was this a first-time, what-were-you-thinking exercise? Or is (was) it a routine letting-off-steam exercise?

The other — GSA chiefs trying to out-do-their regional rivals with lavish parties — is an example of hubris on steroids. Was this let-them-eat-cake exercise a one-time lapse, or was it standard operating procedure?

Do these stories have legs? Will they be with us for weeks, months, years?

Will higher heads roll at the Secret Service? Will Congress mandate new safeguards? Will (should) babysitter/supervisors be sent along on future out-of-country trips? Will Congress or the administration decide that the Secret Service, and maybe other federal law enforcement agencies, need a culture change? If so, to what and how do you do it?

How about the GSA? Was this an isolated incident? Does this sort of what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas attitude prevail in other parts of GSA and in other agencies. What will this do over the long haul to out of town conferences and trade shows. Will places with reputations that encourage naughtiness ( Las Vegas, New Orleans) be out-of-bounds to government conferences? Finally, will GSA be punished or, as some have recommended, dismantled altogether?

I'll have all (or most) of the answers this time next year. Hindsight is always 20/20. Meantime, a couple of interesting comments. One from a former GSAer who says that on the scale of things — and he includes the cost and capers of both Presidential and congressional travel — the GSA "scandal" is the equivalent of "a pimple on an elephant." That said, he adds:

"...My gut feeling as a crusty old GSA person is that in due time, when this is out of the news and the election is behind us, these people will appeal and their suspensions will be quietly reduced from two weeks to two or three days and they will get their back pay. Stupidity, unfortunately, is not a crime. While (two officials) remain susceptible to criminal charges ... unless there is real evidence and value, the Department of Justice won't take it. I don't think it will be worth their while to prosecute the (GSA official) for getting a special price on her purse at the gift shop or (the now fired/retired regional official) whose kids used his GSA-issued iPad."
Another reader says:
"I have no first-hand knowledge of the Secret Service 'scandal' if that is what it is being called. I do have first-hand knowledge of the GSA. When I was there, we looked forward to out-of-town conferences. Some were what would now be called over-the-top and maybe not so different from the one in 2010 that is getting all the ink. I would say that GSA and other federal agencies as well, should keep a close eye on their regional offices." Sinbad


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

On Wikipedia, what's the shortest number of clicks it takes to get from the entry on the General Services Administration to the entry about Kim Kardashian? Three, according to the Oracle of Wikipedia, which measures the shortest path (in number of clicks) between various articles on the Internet encyclopedia. Try it out for yourself!


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