Federal agency gone wild

The ever-growing list of “I’ll take the Fifth” abuses at the General Services Administration are enough to make Americans’ eyes roll into the back of their heads, and round and round, like a slot machine reel.

GSA official Jeffrey Neely is accused of putting on a lavish, $823,000 conference for employees in Las Vegas in 2010, among other misdoings. He has invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself as Congress looks into the unfolding scandal.

One problem, as the Los Angeles Times reported, is that Neely reported to himself. Another problem: Neely was the Pacific Rim region commissioner for the Public Buildings Service and the region’s acting administrator — the top GSA position in the area. That dual authority appears to have contributed to his ability to rack up vast bills for conferences using taxpayer money, the L.A. Times reported.

Ah, dual authority, yet still so top heavy with administrators.

Before the news broke about the Las Vegas conference, with its hired mind reader and clown, most Americans were unaware of the federal government’s General Services Administration, which, as titles go, couldn’t be any more general.

The symbolic nature of a scandal like this outweighs the monetary wrongdoing. This is why citizens don’t trust “the government” and insist there is always lots of waste that can be cut. It doesn’t matter if it wouldn’t make a dent in the deficit if the whole agency took one last junket and tumbled into the sea, metaphorically, to disappear forever, actually.

The GSA was established by President Harry Truman in 1949, to streamline the administrative work of the federal government. GSA consolidated the National Archives Establishment, the Federal Works Agency and its Public Buildings Administration, the Bureau of Federal Supply and the Office of Contract Settlement, and the War Assets Administration into one agency tasked with administering supplies and providing workplaces for federal employees.

Today, the GSA’s mission is: “To use expertise to provide innovative solutions for our customers in support of their missions and by so doing foster an effective, sustainable, and transparent government for the American people.”

The mission statement says the agency “inspires its employees to take risks and be innovative, seek an intimate understanding of customer missions and goals, and seek continuous improvement in GSA business processes.”

And: GSA has three strategic goals — “Innovation, Customer Intimacy, and Operational Excellence.”

Transparent government? Continuous improvement? Operational excellence? Yes, best to plead the Fifth.

Customer intimacy? Is that what the mind reader was for?

The jargon-filled website is a cry of help for a direly needed 21st century streamlining of the agency.