Budget overruns. Employees running amok and management going rogue. A stunning lack of communications. Unethical behavior. This week's revelations of waste and mismanagement at the General Services Administration have all that -- and more.
And the scandal that has engulfed the agency in charge of procuring technology services for the government serves as a cautionary tale for any executive in any enterprise with a sizable org chart.
You don't even have to read the extensive news coverage of this week's congressional hearings to follow the story of how Jeffrey E. Neely, the acting GSA commissioner for the Pacific Rim region, spent lavishly on trips for himself, his wife, and colleagues, all at the expense of US taxpayers. The evidence is posted on YouTube:
According to the findings of GSA Inspector General Brian Miller, Neely was the planner of a Las Vegas conference that cost more than $822,000 of taxpayer money and included hired entertainment, clothing, mementos, lavish parties, and a range of other outrageous expenses. He has cited his right to remain silent during this week's questioning.
Meanwhile, Martha Johnson, the former chief of the GSA, has resigned. She told legislators this week: "I personally apologize to the American people... As the head of the agency, I am responsible. I deeply regret this. I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my appointment."
What's tougher to find out is how all this happened in an agency that's supposed to curb government spending.
At the heart of the problem was disorganization. Timothy R. Smith described it well in the Washington Post:
A confusing organizational structure at the agency muddled the lines of authority, said former GSA administrator Martha N. Johnson, who resigned in the wake of Miller's blistering report on the activities in the Pacific Rim region. The structure was so arcane, Johnson said, even she had trouble understanding what she called a "matrix."
A broken and/or complex reporting structure may only have helped a phenomenal lack of communication -- one that allowed the Western regions of the GSA not only to act autonomously but also to spin out of control, beyond the agency's governing core.
Another issue was the intimidation of GSA workers who appeared to avoid exposing the spending of Neely and others in charge. According to the Washington Post, one employee reportedly told GSA investigators "that a regional director was 'squashed like a bug' for questioning the conferences and travel."
Neely also avoided any meaningful oversight from above. The Post says Johnson inexplicably approved a higher bonus for Neely than the performance rating given by a review board, effectively eliminating the board's decision. Further, Johnson failed to act in June 2011 after Miller's office reported that Neely had violated agency rules in awarding $340,000 of gifts to employees in 2009 and 2010.
Lessons learned? There are many -- including the value of communication, internal governance, and a flat organizational structure. But perhaps just as important is the revelation that the GSA has been operating on methods established decades ago. Where was the information sharing? The wikis? The conferencing? The analytics, for heaven's sake!
Could the GSA debacle have occurred in an enterprise based on the tenets of social business, with its emphasis on information sharing, collaboration, and boundary busting? It's a question worth asking.
Mary, you make a very valid point concerning the value of communication. Sadly, Neely failed to read your blog as he pleaded the 5th throughout his congressional testimony and didn't even bother showing up to finish his testimony the second day of the hearing.
A top social CIO! Too bad he didn't seem to extend social networking throughout the organization. The GSA was so silo'd that the Western region folk simply existed on their own planet, becoming a law unto themselves.
"Could the GSA debacle have occurred in an enterprise based on the tenets of social business, with its emphasis on information sharing, collaboration, and boundary busting?"
That's the question to ponder. I'm not sure I know the answer. Part of me feels cynical (shocked?) and wants to say that if people want to hide information, they'll hide it. If people want to get away with something, they will (until it hits the fan). Then again, the whole idea is that being open and transparent and, essentially, a "social business" will prevent this kind of shady and corrupt activity from taking place. I just wonder if the GSA would have used social as its facade but had all of this going on behind the scenes.
The ThinkerNet does not reflect the views of TechWeb. The ThinkerNet is an informal means of communication to members and visitors of the Internet Evolution site. Individual authors are chosen by Internet Evolution to blog. Neither Internet Evolution nor TechWeb assume responsibility for comments, claims, or opinions made by authors and ThinkerNet bloggers. They are no substitute for your own research and should not be relied upon for trading or any other purpose.
Almost everyone agrees that data analytics, digital marketing, apps, and APIs will greatly affect their enterprise's results in the next 12 months. But a report suggests that not all large corporations are moving quickly to adopt these enabling technologies -- and that could seriously harm their profitability, customer satisfaction, and chances for ongoing success.
Enterprises are embracing open-source to avoid vendor lock-in, get better-quality software, and gain access to larger libraries of applications. In return, they may be putting themselves at risk for higher, more complex support costs.
Whereas some businesses search externally when they need a CIO, Choice Hotels had to look only at its CTO for someone with the necessary expertise, industry knowledge, and technological know-how to continue leading the company's embrace of enabling technologies.
Showing results is the best way to win over social business doubters, according to Mary Maida, Medtronic lead information solutions manager. Internet Evolution's Mitch Wagner interviewed Maida at the E2 Innovate conference.
The restaurant chain's Chris Laping describes how the company drives innovation in everything from operations to team uniforms under his leadership. Internet Evolution's Mitch Wagner interviewed Laping at the E2Innovate conference.
The very low-tech "scrum" project technique introduces "crowd talking" to projects and also sets the entire crowd to problem solving. So far, these new social-media-style meetings appear to have supercharged project execution.
When it comes to Internet-related research, the gap between the real world and academia is widening. Indeed, a few boffins may be up so high in their ivory towers that Earth is invisible. Sadly, some of this research is probably costing the US government – and US citizens – real money.
The whole Amazon.reader debate is a double-stupid. It's stupid to think that there's any e-book buyer who doesn't know Amazon's URL, and it was stupider to let ICANN launch the whole free-form TLD initiative to start with.
Enterprises would like to move to cloud computing but are hesitant because they are concerned about providers’ ability to secure company data. Here are some tips that help to ensure that if breaches occur, the business is not left holding the bag.
Edmunds separates customers into segments based on the info it collects on its site and from partners, and uses that to push out custom content, said Brian Baron, director of business analytics for Edmunds.com, at Predictive Analytics Innovation Summit.
The automotive website uses propensity modeling to target ads and customer registration forms, said Brian Baron, director of business analytics for Edmunds.com, at Predictive Analytics Innovation Summit.
Expert Integrated Systems: Changing the Experience & Economics of IT In this e-book, we take an in-depth look at these expert integrated systems -- what they are, how they work, and how they have the potential to help CIOs achieve dramatic savings while restoring IT's role as business innovator. READ THIS eBOOK
your weekly update of news, analysis, and
opinion from Internet Evolution - FREE! REGISTER HERE
Wanted! Site Moderators Internet Evolution is looking for a handful of readers to help moderate the message boards on our site as well as engaging in high-IQ conversation with the industry mavens on our thinkerNet blogosphere. The job comes with various perks, bags of kudos, and GIANT bragging rights. Interested?