GSA helps feds walk the straight and narrow

In an effort to show their agency has integrity despite a lot of bad press, General Services Administration officials provided a cheat sheet of ethics rules at its largest conference in May.

At the GSA Expo in San Antonio, officials handed out the two-page document that reminds federal employees when a gift is a gift and when it isn’t.

The point is living an honest lifestyle.

“To ensure your Expo 2012 experience reflects the integrity and values of federal employees, please ensure you are familiar with these guidelines,” the document’s header reads.

The handout touches on accepting gifts from outside sources and the use of promotional items, such as frequent flyer miles and upgrades on flights to calendars and pens, as well as the travel charge card.

Ken Allen, executive director of the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council, said he was surprised officials waited until the Expo to hand it out.

The document reflects the scrutiny agencies have fallen under in the recent months, and the need for clarity if employees want to walk on “the straight and narrow,” he said.

Government employees live under strict code of ethics, but each agency also has its own interpretation of the rules.

“All federal employees will admit at some point to being confused about what they can and cannot do,” Allen said.

Some don’ts are pretty obvious though. GSA officials faced a number of House and Senate committees in a week’s time in April when an inspector general report revealed lavish spending at the Western Regions Conference in 2010 for a select few agency employees. The overall bill for mementos, a Las Vegas hotel, food and entertainment was $822,000.

The scandal forced GSA Administrator Martha Johnson to fire some officials and then resign her own position. In addition, several regional officials were put on administrative leave. Jeff Neely, Region 9 commissioner for the GSA’s Public Building Service and central figure in the debacle, has since left the agency.

As the first major GSA event coming after the IG report, GSA’s decision was the right thing to do, said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. GSA employees and industry alike at the Expo benefited.

Former Administrator Johnson was replaced by Dan Tangherlini, who has reiterated his top-down review of conference spending and policies.

In an April 3 letter addressed GSA employees, Tangherlini underlined the importance of staying focused on promoting efficiency and cost-savings.

“We cannot allow mistakes or misjudgments of a small number of individuals to slow our progress or take our focus from our goals,” he wrote. “GSA’s business is to solve customers’ problems; we are acting quickly to address them.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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