Who Gets the Blame for the GSA Scandal?

 

In The Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank looks at the culture that inspired officials at the General Services Administration to spend taxpayer dollars on extravagant conferences. Milbank asks: Who is to blame?

The answer is not who you would think. It’s not the GSA officials and big-spending members of Congress, but rather it’s the rare lawmaker who wants to slash spending.

Despite saying that “nobody’s excusing” Jeffrey Neely, the GSA official at the center of the scandal, Milbank goes on to do exactly that. “Lawmakers might pause the outrage long enough to think about how they have contributed to the culture that made Neely,” Milbank writes.

These are grim times for federal workers, with pay freezes and the prospect of massive cutbacks at year-end. No wonder a few people would get the idea, as Neely wrote in an e-mail: “Why not enjoy it while we have it and while we can? Aint going to last forever?”

According to this creative logic, there is only one way to deter wasteful spending – allow more of it. Only in Washington.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @NewBoss

    Wow.  Is there any context to that remark?  I refuse to click on the link and give Milbank the traffic.  That is the entitlement mentality on steroids and also signals that left-leaning editorialists officially have run out of meaningful things to write about.  This should be their albatross.

    • #1
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    @rayconandlindacon

    Nothing is more powerful than the example set by a great leader.  Does the Obama lifestyle communicate a license to the peons who are, to paraphrase Milbank, “running on fumes”?

    When the tyrant in charge can run up vast personal expenses while borrowing trillions to keep the party going, there is no way that the rest of the team won’t follow the same playbook.

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    @WesternChauvinist

    That’s perhaps the most repulsive bit of reasoning I’ve heard to date. 5..4..3..2….

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    @LookAway

    Thank you for this post. As an old Cold War Warrior this reminds me of the the role that Pravada reporters played defending any action by a Party member. In some ways the Feds are taking on an aura of the Party, that what protects and buffers the politicians and their power. Of course they deserve a few dalliances. Dana is just protecting his main readership, Washington  DC feds.

    • #4
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    @KarlUB

    Lordy, there is no end to how Milbank can annoy me. Although his overall point is, I guess, not a bad one: Why are we surprised when government officials act in ways entirely consistent with the larger (debased) culture?

    What needled me the most, though, was his reference to the GSA as a “sleepy backwater” in government.

    This man has been covering government his entire career. Anyone who knows anything about how government works knows the GSA is, in fact, one of the most powerful nodes of government.

    If anyone, anywhere wants to sell something to the Feds, they at least have to get to know the GSA. They don’t necessarily have to go through the GSA, but they must be engaged. We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars, here.

    Sleepy backwater? Yeah. That’s exactly what they want you to think. These are, actually, amongst the most powerful bureaucrats in the world.

    • #5
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    @Britanicus

    I didn’t read the actual post, but something about the author suggests that he’s a man of clarity, power, knowledge, and is likely a sharp dresser.

    • #6
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    @KCMulville

    So, let me get this straight …

    Unless we empower federal bureaucrats with the authority to “manage” our lives, they’ll feel disrespected, and in turn, that will entitle them to juvenile tantrums that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Got it.

    • #7
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    @JonathanHorn

    I actually have a brother named Michael, but he would never say the part about being a sharp dresser. Thanks for the post.

    Michael Horn: I didn’t read the actual post, but something about the author suggests that he’s a man of clarity, power, knowledge, and is likely a sharp dresser. · 9 minutes ago

    • #8
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    @FricosisGuy

    More proof that man is not a rational being, but a rationalizing one.

    • #9
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    @JonathanHorn

    KC Mulville, I can’t do any better than that. The column’s logic is so contorted that it’s not easy to get straight, but I give Milbank some credit for creativity.

    KC Mulville: So, let me get this straight …

    Unless we empower federal bureaucrats with the authority to “manage” our lives, they’ll feel disrespected, and in turn, that will entitle them to juvenile tantrums that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Got it. · 10 minutes ago

    • #10
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    @TheKingPrawn

    Everyone acts like there’s something especially wrong with federal employees. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is not. Federal employees are your friends, your neighbors, and the people you lived around your whole life. What you see in situations like this is human nature. We would all like to think that we would be different or better in the same situation, but it’s just wishful thinking. People spending other people’s money simply behave this way.

    • #11
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    @JonathanHorn

    King Prawn, you raise a good point. I know many outstanding federal employees who take their responsibilities to taxpayers very seriously. But government spending will always be inefficient because there is no market discipline.

    The King Prawn: Everyone acts like there’s something especially wrong with federal employees. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is not. Federal employees are your friends, your neighbors, and the people you lived around your whole life. What you see in situations like this is human nature. We would all like to think that we would be different or better in the same situation, but it’s just wishful thinking. People spending other people’s money simply behave this way. · 6 minutes ago

    • #12
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    @JohnMurdoch

    The post, and this thread, seem to tend ever-so-closely toward the limits of that portion of the CofC that prohibits “anything that makes conservatives look crazy.”

    Dana Milbank was being funny. Or trying to be. 

    He’s using an old rhetorical technique in an amusing way–pointing to an outrageous circumstance, and suggesting that rather than going too far, the real problem is that they didn’t go far enough. 

    We are, after all, the land of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Snooki. Debauchery is an American specialty. The president should be promoting the export of our culture.

    His best line? 

    I realize that some party poopers will not share my delight at the Secret Service becoming a double entendre. But at the very least, this scandal, like the General Services Administration’s spending spree in Las Vegas, should serve to refute claims that the federal workforce is out of touch with ordinary Americans. As it turns out, some federal workers reflect our culture all too well.

    [Emphasis added]

    I realize Milbank is a lefty–that doesn’t mean he can’t make a funny observation every now and again.

    Let’s lighten up.

    • #13
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    @JonathanHorn

    John Murdoch, I don’t doubt there are elements of humor to the column. You highlighted a few. But behind satire, there is often a serious point. Everyone can have their own opinion where the line is here.

    • #14
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    @NickStuart

    Neely screwed up by getting greedy and sloppy. For every Neely there are probably 1000 petty chiselers grifting away $100 or so at a time. Week after week after month after year.

    • #15
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    @Britanicus
    Jonathan Horn: I actually have a brother named Michael, but he would never say the part about being a sharp dresser. Thanks for the post. · 2 hours ago

    Haha I’m sure your brother is a great man too.

    The King Prawn: Everyone acts like there’s something especially wrong with federal employees….but it’s just wishful thinking. People spending other people’s money simply behave this way.

    (edited quote for brevity)

    You have a good point, King Prawn. As a native of Arlington who works in the D.C. nonprofit sector, I see both sort of federal worker. Some of my friends are excellent, dedicated federal employees, others not so much.

    The bit about spending other people’s money is interesting. When you work in a nonprofit, everything you do is with another person’s money. An important difference, however, is that if you waste money in a nonprofit, you’ll quickly find your donors turn elsewhere.

    Accountability is a wonderful thing.

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    @TheMugwump

    The people’s money is supposed to be held in trust by the government.  Squandering taxpayer funds is a violation of that trust.  Where is the accountability?  Heads should roll on this one from top to bottom as a lesson to the rest of the petty bureaucrats who routinely rip-off the taxpayers.

    You know, two can play the class warfare game.  How ’bout the Republicans start one for our side?  The public vs. unaccountable, corrupt, spendthrift bureaucrats.  Mitt, you listening?

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    @CaseyTaylor

    A large part of this debacle, at least culturally, is the perverse “use it or lose it” funding system. If all the money isn’t gone by 30 September, Uncle Sugar cuts your budget starting 01 October. It’s insane.

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    @SheltonEhrlich

    Before the proliferation of mass money-wasting agencies in the past four decades the GSA was the best way to do pay-to-play for politicians.  After all contractors wanted a chance to bid on new buildings, landlords wanted to rent space to a reliable tenant, etc.  I speak from experience.

    • #19
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    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Well it looks like it is Bush’s fault. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/04/07/white-house-pushing-blame-on-bush-white-house-for-gsa-debacle/

    • #20

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