Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Three Questions They Should Have Asked at GSA

ARCHIVES

Why is this man smiling? Jeff Neely, the Western Region director of the General Services Administration, is probably asking himself this question. In case you haven’t heard, Neely invoked the Fifth Amendment when he was called before Congress this week to explain why he approved $823,000 in expenses for a GSA management retreat at a Las Vegas casino and resort.

This cheesy photo was taken by Neely’s wife on one of his five government-paid recon trips to Vegas to scope things out before the retreat. She then posted the picture on her Google Plus account. Seriously. (Hat tip to my friends at Government Executive who shared the snap after it was unearthed by ABC News.)

The GSA scandal story has taken off, I think, because most of us cannot believe that any federal manager would approve a budget that included $8,000 for a mind reader, $75,000 for a bicycle building team building exercise and $44 a person breakfasts. Oh, yeah, let’s not forget the $6,000 for commemorative coins and the $8,000 for participant “yearbooks.” (There are recaps of all this everywhere, including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and The Washington Post.)

Maybe I just fell off the turnip truck, but I can’t believe it myself because I know of federal agencies that aren’t even providing free bottles of water or coffee during training events. Honestly, I can’t think of any of my private sector clients that spend the kind of money that Jeff Neely authorized. In a post-meltdown world, it’s just not good form.

So, I won’t venture to psychoanalyze Neely’s motivations in engineering this mess, but I can think of three questions that any leader – public sector or private – should ask themselves before authorizing a mega-bucks budget.

  • Would I spend my own money this way? This seems like a pretty good place to start. Would you go on five planning trips (and authorize three more) if you had to pay out of your own pocket? Would you stay in a $500 to $1,200 a night hotel suite for multiple nights if it was coming out of your wallet? If the answer is no, that’s a warning sign.
  • Am I trying to hide it? Neely must have had some warning signs of his own in planning the meeting. It’s reported that he asked a GSA lawyer to give an opinion on the $75K bike building session but to not write it down because it might “become discoverable.” If that little voice inside your head says, “Let’s make sure we hide this,” that’s a pretty good indication that you shouldn’t do it.
  • What’s my point of reference? It’s been widely reported that Neely directed his staff to make the Vegas meeting “over the top.” In the process, the budget ballooned from $300,000 to over $800,000. Seriously, dude — over the top compared to what? Compared to what other federal agencies do for their management conferences? Compared to what Goldman Sachs does for theirs? Compared to what most people on Planet Earth would find acceptable? Making sound decisions about spending other people’s money requires a point of reference that is grounded in reality.

What other questions should Jeff Neely have asked himself? What’s your take on this story?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.