Klossner: On your mark, get set, stimulate!
I once knew a British man who worked in security for royal families and VIPs when they visited the British Isles. He told me of a client who gave him a large denomination pound note to use in a McDonalds in Ireland. When the cashier — and eventually the manager — told him they didn't have enough money in the till to make change, he went back to the limo and told his client, who instructed him to tell them they could keep the change, which might have been more than the manager's weekly salary.
This led me to thinking about the stimulus packages. Specifically, how federal agencies prepare for dealing with their individual stimulus requirements.
My new favorite reality show is now in full swing. Agencies are being given piles of stimulus funding and being instructed to spend it by September, without having the infrastructure or past experience to deal with it. For many — all? — this is the first time they have ever experienced anything like this. In fact, for many of us, this is a new situation. I can't recall the last time I had more money than I was prepared to spend, other than the time I got sick on the extra large container of malted milk balls I had purchased.
I imagine any agency is prepared for an influx of funding, even if it's in their fantasies, and I also imagine each agency is prepared to make quick procurement decisions — having a to-do list — but on a much smaller scale. How do agencies practice for the perfect storm of large funding with a spending deadline? Do they have all employees undergo "spend more money than you've ever had before as fast as you can" training?
Haven't we all worked at one time for a company or government agency where we were told we had to "use up our budget, or else we won't get the same amount budgeted for next year?" (You haven't? Then I have a couple extra job experiences to average out for yours.) Can you imagine this thinking applied to this situation? Is it even possible that some company or agency will return stimulus funding? I'd pay attention to see if any agency personnel suddenly are outfitted with new iPhones.
But, getting back to my original thought (there was one, I'm pretty sure), how do you train for a project or situation that has had no precedent in your agency? Do you give random employees $5,000 for lunch, with the stipulation that they don't bring back change? Do you go to Wal-Mart with a stopwatch?
And then there are the mistakes. Mistakes are going to be made. But in this climate, with the intense scrutiny every expenditure is undergoing, people are afraid of making mistakes or — worse — being caught making mistakes. This may be the biggest potential hazard — fear of bad publicity may create cautious, non-innovative moves. If you're given $5,000 for lunch, don't bring back 2000 Happy Meals. (Or, 909 if you get the six piece chicken and upgrade the drink to a shake).
On the bright side, I don't think any federal agency management has to worry about dealing with the public stigma of receiving large bonuses.
Posted by John Klossner on Apr 15, 2009 at 12:18 PM