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The yes man

How do you say no to the president when he’s asking you to do another four years of public service, just when you’re about to retire? You simply don’t.

That suggestion came from Earl Devaney, retired chairman of the Recovery and Accountability Board, who spoke April 16 at the Federal Senior management Conference in Cambridge, Md.

Devaney spent 41 years in government, investigating white-collar crime and government waste, fraud and abuse as a Secret Service agent and as inspector general of the Interior Department. He joined the RATB when it launched in 2009.

Devaney described the day in 2009 when Vice President Joe Biden called and asked him to chair the new board. It was a proposal Devaney pondered over the weekend, but decided to turn down because he had promised his wife he would retire.

He practiced in front of the mirror all weekend the art of saying no: “Mr. Vice President, thank you very much. It’s a terrific honor, [but] let me give you some names of folks I really think would do a good job for you.”

When Monday came around, Devaney showed up at the appointed time at the White House to see the vice president.

“At some point, I think [Biden] sensed I was sort of moonwalking a little bit; he just watched and said, ‘Let’s go see the president,'” Devaney told the audience.

"So the president says, ‘So are you gonna to take the job?’ Despite his careful practice, Devaney answered the president immediately with a  "yes, sir.”

As for the retirement promise Devaney made to his wife? “Needless to say, Mother’s Day, birthdays and Christmas were very expensive,” he deadpanned.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Apr 17, 2012 at 12:11 PM


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