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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

At Least Eric Shinseki Didn’t Get Choked by the President

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Sure, he looks calm in his presidential portrait, but President Harding was not afraid to choke federal officials. Sure, he looks calm in his presidential portrait, but President Harding was not afraid to choke federal officials. Library of Congress

Eric Shinseki’s visit to the White House Friday that culminated in President Obama accepting his resignation could’ve been worse. After all, he only lost his job. The first head of the federal agency created to serve veterans suffered a more ignominious fate.

In a report on the “culture of coverups” at the VA Friday, the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold included the following anecdote:

Charles Forbes was chosen to head the Veterans Bureau by his poker buddy, President Warren G. Harding, in 1921. He was a poor choice. Forbes took kickbacks. He sold off federal supplies. He wildly misspent taxpayer money -- once buying a 100-year supply of floor wax, enough to polish a floor the size of Indiana, for 25 times the regular price (apparently as a favor to a floor wax company).

Eventually, Forbes was caught. The president was unhappy. In 1923, a White House visitor opened the wrong door and found Harding choking Forbes with his bare hands.

“You yellow rat! You double-crossing bastard!” Harding was saying, according to historians. When he noticed the visitor, he let go of Forbes’s neck.

Forbes was later convicted of bribery and conspiracy, setting off the first wave of efforts to regulate mismanagement out of the VA bureaucracy.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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