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Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

Blog archive

Feds are headline news — again and again

It was a pretty bad week for a lot of people associated with the federal government.

If you don’t believe it (you probably do), just take a look at the front page of the April 18 issue of the Washington Post.

The Secret Service and the U.S. military took lumps in “Inquiry hints at wider scandal in Colombia.” The General Services Administration story continued to expand in “GSA official’s wife went on trips at taxpayer expense.” And the FBI and Justice Department came off looking bad in “Reviewed lab work held close to vest,” one of a series on the department’s flawed forensic work called “Secret Errors: Suspect Science.”

All on Page 1.

The day before, April 17, in addition to earlier stories on DOJ’s forensic failures and the Colombia scandal, Page 1 also featured “Panetta says he regrets cost of his flights home” (more than $800,000). That same day, on the West Coast, the Los Angeles Times broke a story about photos showing U.S. troops posing in 2010 with the bodies of dead Afghan bombers.

It was pretty much the same thing all week: the public seeing feds and members of the military —if only a very few of them — in a bad light.

What the general public didn’t see, of course, was how millions of feds and military service members felt on seeing some of their own number behave so unwisely or irresponsibly. And most members of the general public won’t even think about that.

Instead, depending on how much spare time they have on their hands, most members of the non-fed public will either shrug or they’ll express outrage because they PAY for the federal government.

It generally won’t dawn on them that feds pay for the federal government, too, or that when some bad apple in the private sector squanders or mismanages money at an oil company or manufacturing firm or food processor, they PAY for that too — in the form of higher prices for fuel, manufactured goods or food.

The fact is that there are bad apples everywhere —in the public sector, the private sector, and on the cusp where the two sectors meet.

Which brings us to the case of one Delmus Eugene Scott, Jr., 34, of Humble, Texas, one such man on the cusp.

Scott was a Defense Department contractor who, in his role of “custodian of public effects,” essentially served as a postmaster providing postal services to U.S. military personnel deployed in Kuwait.

Among other things, Scott conducted and reported financial transactions at the Camp Buehring Army Post Office (APO) in Kuwait — including the procurement and sale of U.S. Postal Service money orders. Scott had full autonomy to order blank money orders directly from the USPS distribution center, and had control of the mechanical imprinter at the APO with which amounts are imprinted onto the money orders.

You can see where this is going.

Large deposits of postal money orders were observed coming into bank accounts back in Humble. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, investigators determined that Scott stole a total of 565 postal money orders, each valued at $1,000. Of those, $181,000 in fraudulent money orders cleared the Federal Reserve, and agents recovered the other $384,000 in money orders before they cleared.

According to authorities, Scott deposited $90,000 from the cashed money orders into his personal bank account, and $91,000 into his fiancé’s account. Scott pleaded guilty in January to one count of theft of government money, and was recently sentenced to 33 months in prison.

How’s that for an example? A private-sector worker working for an executive branch department to provide services of a self-supporting government enterprise in service of the U.S. military. And you won’t see it on the front page, or even anywhere in most newspapers. (Unless you happen to get the Humble Observer.)

It’s true, of course, that federal employees and military service members are held to — and hold themselves to — a higher standard, in that they are custodians of the public trust.

But the bottom line — and the moral of the story — is that they’re all just people, too. And people screw up.

Unfortunately, when feds screw up, it generates a lot more headlines.

(A final note — Scott was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the DOD Major Procurement Fraud Unit in Kuwait, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and the FBI, and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. Who says the system doesn’t work?)

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Apr 20, 2012 at 4:02 PM


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