“What happened with the GSA in Vegas stymies federal workers”

“What happened with the GSA in Vegas stymies federal workers”

OK, pick one:

  • The Federal government should be more like private industry, ready to break molds, try new things, be nimble, and provide better service in innovative ways, just like private industry.
  • The Federal government has to eliminate wasteful spending and all signs of excess.

Remember that GSA property managers’ conference in Las Vegas a few years ago? It was run like an awards event in private industry: top performers are flown to a nice resort for an extravagant celebration of their success. I’m not saying it’s ever happened to me, but I’ve heard of it happening in industry without rising to Bonfire of the Vanities levels of excess. (Actually, there was a weekend at Disneyworld that almost qualifies.) And, yet, everyone was scandalized by the GSA event in Vegas. Now, it seems, the OMB and individual agencies have cracked down on anything related to travel, to avoid excesses.

That was the sound of the baby flying out the window with the bathwater.

I’ve been to corporate events that had extravagances and frivolities I had no interest in. But I’m only one of sixteen personality archetypes (Myers-Briggs). There are people who respond to that, who are motivated by that, and some of them are top performers in private industry. What might be to me some sort of excess might be to them the recognition they recognize and crave, the way they realize someone is telling them, they did a good job. If a few chilled, peeled shrimp and a mindreader will get some of these people to excel instead of merely meeting expectations, maybe that’s a good trade-off.

I’m not saying all of private industry is like that. Some private enterprises, like some government agencies, are run by Puritanical kill-joys who have a very narrow view of the bottom line, who probably produce a very narrow range of results, whose average returns are probably slightly lower than industry averages. (This would be a really good place for a citation for the source of such as assertion. Sorry, I don’t know of any academic studies of the effects of kill-joys in private industry.) Maybe those kill-joys are also the ones shrieking about the government stealing their hard-earned ill-gotten profits through taxes, the ones who think that a 12% cut across the board of all Federal budgets (or some fixed percentage; whether it’s 12%, 3%, or 47% isn’t really the point) is a good idea.

Do you think Mitt Romney ever went to a lavish resort on a trip to celebrate his firm’s success? Without meaning to doubt his Mormon values, I’m guessing he has, if only to let those who worked with him know that he and other executives were thankful. (Besides, Las Vegas has a large Mormon population. Go figure.) Not as governor of Massachusetts, but surely as a private equity fund manage he did.

I won’t say that about Rick Santorum or Ted Cruz, but business people who innovate and are successful take chances and have celebrations. It’s what distinguishes us from the “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” Marxists. Are you sure you want the Federal compensation policies to seem like some sort of Soviet model of equality and strict order? That’s right, I just equated Tea Partiers with Soviet socialist kill-joys, all production and no celebration.

I was upset about the reaction to the GSA scandal when it occurred, and I’m both upset and cynically accepting of the current outcome. As a former Federal employee, I know that a few days of excess by a few people in the desert isn’t a reason to tie down hard-working civil servants who need to travel for their work. I understand the desire to reign in excess, but not every soundbite is representative, and not all scandals are legitimate.

Just as private industry sometimes celebrates to excess, so does the Federal bureaucracy sometimes implement “ethics” and “accountability” to excess. Let’s have a scandal about that.

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