Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The irony of the GSA conference debacle: it comes from getting the government to be run like businesses

onventiongoers browse the exhibit floor of the International Council of Shopping Centers RECON 2009 show at the Las Vegas Convention Center
ICSC: Conventiongoers browse the exhibit floor of the International Council of Shopping Centers RECON 2009 show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on May 18. Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun.

The press has been full of reports of the excess at a conference for the western division of the General Services Administration, the unit of the federal government which coordinates government purchasing functions, including real estate development and leasing. See for example, "GSA spending scandal will be dissected by lawmakers during next week's hearings," from ABC News. Basically, over $800,000 was spent on a conference for 300 attendees, and much of the money was spent on what appear to be "frivolous" activities.

And the fallout and repercussions are bad--a bunch of people were fired, and now everyone has yet another reason to criticize the federal government, agencies, federal employees, waste, etc. See "Lessons from the GSA scandal" from the Washington Post.

Now this conference probably resulted from two things, the first being "distance from DC" as there is no way that such a conference would have been organized and held within easy driving range of Washington, DC.

But I think the biggest reason is that the people in the agency unit, focused on real estate development and leasing, end up thinking of themselves as real estate professionals just like their counterparts in the for profit real estate industry--which is known for excess, spending a lot of money wining and dining, having big blowout conferences in Las Vegas--like the annual convention for the International Council of Shopping Centers--and for this division of the GSA, their reference group became not people like them in other government agencies, but high flying real estate developers like Donald Trump.

So they acted accordingly.

And screwed up big time.

Something like this happened a few years ago in DC, where a government employee with responsibility for real estate transactions was wined and dined by people affiliated with Douglas Development--they were looking to rent some of their properties to DC government agencies. He ended up going to jail as did someone who worked for the development company. See "Ex-Official Gets Home Detention For Tainted Deals" from the Washington Post.

As long as you have these big gaps between each side of the "transaction" these kinds of problems are more likely to occur, especially when government is admonished to "act more like a business."

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