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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Two agencies facing a very bad hangover

Monday, April 23, 2012 | 10:02 a.m. CDT

Who says federal employees are faceless, gray bureaucrats? Look at the fun they're having at the General Services Administration and in the Secret Service. Maybe somebody should put together a video and call it "Feds Gone Wild."

OK, enough of the late-night TV gibes. Let's stipulate that most federal employees do a fine job. Yet the two scandals raise serious concerns.

The GSA spent $823,000 for a lavish Las Vegas conference that, to taxpayers, must prompt the question: Why should we send them another dime? So far, the agency’s top administrator has resigned, two deputies have been fired, and four others have been placed on leave.

As for the Secret Service, the stories in recent days make the agency look less like a no-nonsense security agency than a club for rowdy frat boys.

In other words, those involved have done a great disservice to their colleagues — men and women who are willing to take a bullet for the president, the first family and others they’re sworn to protect. Their behavior also evoked the issue of human trafficking and its intimate link to prostitution — which is why the State Department prohibits its employees from patronizing prostitutes, even in countries such as Colombia where it is legal.

Eleven Secret Service people and 10 U.S. military members are being investigated for allegedly bringing up to 21 women to the Cartagena, Colombia, hotel where they were staying. They weren't on vacation. They were supposedly doing advance security work for President Barack Obama's visit to Colombia last week.

According to published reports, these liaisons burst into public view after one of the prostitutes accused an agent of underpaying for her services. In tears, she told a Colombian policeman, who called in a fellow officer. Soon a hotel security guard was involved, and the story could not be contained.

Some of the agents say the women were not prostitutes. Rather, they met them at bars and did not pay them for sex. One Cartagena bar owner was quoted as saying some of the women might have been picked up in tourist bars, where they flirt with men and fail to tell them until the last moment that they charge for sexual services.

The agents are privy to information on which the safety of the president and those around him depend.

The woman whose complaint brought the behavior to public light says the agents did not boast about their jobs. Even so, they put themselves in a position where they could have conceivably become vulnerable to compromise.

As Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins put it, "Given the number of personnel involved, does this indicate a problem with the culture of the Secret Service?"

That is the important underlying question, and it applies not only to the Secret Service but to the GSA. The investigations should determine how these agencies could so dramatically run off the rails.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.


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