Life as the manager of a General Services Administration store that provides government workers with office supplies was a constant battle to give away as much of the merchandise as possible, according to tone of former store managers indicted in the GSA scandals.
The former store manager, who agreed to talk with a reporter on condition his name not be used, said the pressure to "sell" more goods came from GSA supervisors, who he said based promotions and demotions on the sales volume generated by each supply store.
"I would actually have nightmares about what would happen to me if I didn't make a certain sales level each month," the GSA employee said.
The former store manager said he never learned why GSA was interested in "selling"more merchandise, rather than less, and never questioned the policy.
The supply stores, located in major government buildings, do not, in fact "sell" anything. They dispense office supplies to government employees, who load hopping carts with goods taken from shelves arranged as in the supermarket. The items are charged to the agencies wing them.
Federal investigators have attributed pervasive corruption within GSA in part to pressure within the agency to spend more money so that Congress would give GSA higher budget allocation each year.
"You wouldn't believe it," says one investigator. "Managers of federal buildings have told us they were instructed to spend as much money as they could, all year long, regardless of what the money was used for. No one cared where it went, as long as it was spent. It didn't take long before they learned to spend it on themselves."
Both managers of federal buildings run by GSA and managers of the stores that supply government workers with office materials are focuses of major investigations by the D.C. and Baltimore U.S. Attorney's offices.
One investigator has purchased by the supply stores each year never, in fact, is delivered to GSA. The money then is divided between the store managers who certify they received goods never delivered and the supply and the supply companies involved.
So far, 27 store managers, their assistants, or contractors who sold to them have been indicted by a U.S. grand jury in Baltimore for defrauding the government. The concurrent has resulted in five prime contractors being charged with paying bribes so GSA building managers would certify they had performed maintenance work they had not performed.
The former supply store manager, who was indicted for taking bribes for certifying that office supplies were delivered to his store when they were not, said he lived in fear that he would be reprimanded for failing to sell enough goods or for not displaying merchandise supplied by particular companies.
"They (GSA supervisors) didn't give a damn what you sold. The warehouse would be stocked with something, and they'd tell you to tell it, "the former store manager said.
"You'd come to work, and you've got two tractor trailers outside filled with dust pans or wastebaskets - stuff you'd never sell," the GSA employe said. "You were supposed to display it. They'd discount the item from $6.20 to $1.20 just to get rid of it."
The former manager said one of the walls in his office was covered with awards he had received for achieving certain sales levels. "The $300.000 in sales per month award was gold, and $100,000 a month was a piece of paper with the GSA insignis," he said.
When high-ranking GSA officials toured his tore, he said, they would ask the monthly volume. "They'd say, 'Very good, keep it up.'" he said.
Asked why store managers received incentive awards for increased sales. Jerald Sterburg, who formerly was the top official over the supply stores in this region, told The Washington Post, "We wanted to create a feeling of belonging on the part of the store manager."