Sunday, April 22, 2012

GSA's Mad House

“It’s a mad house. A mad house!” [Charleton Heston, “Planet of the Apes” 1986]

The ongoing revelations of scandal at the General Services Administration (GSA) are now being equaled by looney ideas for solving the problem.

During the recent Senate hearings on the GSA, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) suggested that “GSA’s newly minted acting administrator should assign 11 “special oversight officers” to work in each of its regions for a period of time to improve accountability”.

What was she thinking?

GSA’s Regional Administrators are direct reports to the GSA Administrator. They are all members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), which means they are (1) under an enforceable and detailed performance agreement, and (2) can be immediately removed should they not fulfill this performance agreement, or violate federal law.

Once again, politicians have found a way to address a government problem by NOT enforcing existing procedures and policies. They want to create yet another layer of bureaucracy!

If the GSA Administrator is not properly managing their direct reports, it is time to find someone who will. Even an Acting-Administrator (and GSA has had nineteen of them during its sixty-three year existence) should hold direct reports accountable for their actions and actually know what they are doing.

The eruption of scandal at the GSA is a symptom of a larger issue throughout the Federal government. Government is way too big and its operations are based on everything but rational management thinking. It is only a matter of time before another agency or program explodes onto the front pages with waste, fraud and abuse. There are no real incentives for doing anything rational. Yes, there are detailed laws, policies, and regulations, but these are rarely based on reasonable management practices, and few people in government really care anyway. Fundamental organizational revolution is the only viable and lasting solution.

Some say the GSA should go away. Maybe so. However, before taking such an action, why isn’t anyone checking on how things are done in the real world? There are thousands of large successful businesses that provide operational space, equipment, and supplies to their far flung units. Why aren’t the House and Senate panels holding a hearing with executives from H&R Block, Marriott, McDonalds, Wal-Mart, or any number of other private companies asking them how they provide space, equipment, and supplies? Are they centralized, regionalized, or localized? Where does procurement authority reside? What are their systems for accountability and planning?

The real world is constantly updating their approaches to serving their markets. Those companies that do not change with the times and consumer tastes vanish. Government never has to worry about vanishing, even when it is decades behind the times. There are ways to bring reality to government. Adding additional layers to already antiquated and dysfunction systems is not one of them.

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