Why do bureaucrats go wild?
The recent scandal at the General Services Administration leaves one pondering the question: Why is it that certain government workers go off the rails, whether it’s spending more than $800,000 on a conference featuring a clown and a mind reader or doing coke and having sex with oil lobbyists?
It’s partly an outgrowth of a decades-long shift in how the government does business, I argue in Outlook this weekend. The number of government workers has largely stayed the same, but business with the government has skyrocketed, turning mild-mannered public servants into dealmakers and leading a few to embrace the most outlandish excesses of the private sector:
Rather than hire more federal workers or use existing ones to carry out new federal activities directly — the way the government used to produce dentures for veterans . . . — Uncle Sam has instead doled out the money through the private sector.
That has created not only a proliferation of government contractors — private-sector employees who sometimes work side by side with federal employees —but also government contracts to arrange for all that spending. Amid this transformation, the GSA has become one of the government’s most important middlemen: it’s responsible for helping other agencies buy the goods and services they need, overseeing $66 billion in annual federal spending and government property worth $500 billion...The GSA essentially sits on a big pile of government money that private companies bid for, putting the unassuming Bartlebys of the world in constant contact with its Gordon Gekkos ...
Rather than emulating the private sector’s virtues, some officials at GSA ultimately adopted some of the private sector’s vices, prioritizing quid pro quo relationships and equating lavish expense with power.
You can read the whole piece here.