The Secret Service scandal involving the alleged use of prostitutes by the president’s advance team in Colombia has been much written about. We don’t have to dissect the issue here.
Things are interconnected though. Many have argued that food safety, for example, can only be secured with government employees, implying that these are somehow always more reliable than private employees. Yet, events such as what happened in Colombia should give us pause. After all, the Secret Service is the elite of the elite. These men are the private bodyguards of the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world. Yet our hiring, training and monitoring is insufficient to stop them from consorting with prostitutes, drinking and carousing while on official business. On what basis can we possibly assume that lower level government employees can be counted on to act with propriety in the enforcement of their duties?
Beyond the public policy case, there is a business lesson here and Mark Steyn, the Canadian political commentator and cultural critic, caught the essence of that lesson in his column, Grope and Change (subtitled It’s time to halve the motorcade, halve the security detail, halve the hookers):
What we know so far is this: All eleven Secret Service men and all ten U.S. military personnel staying at the Hotel Caribe are alleged to have had “escorts” in their rooms that night. All of them. The entire team.
Twenty-one U.S. public servants. Twenty-one Colombian whores. Unless a couple of the senior guys splashed out for the two-girl special. “Some of them were saying they didn’t know they were prostitutes,” explained Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Some are saying they were women at the bar.”
Amazing to hear government agents channeling Dudley Moore in Arthur: “You’re a hooker? I thought I was doing so well.” It turns out U.S. Secret Service agents are the only men who can walk into a Colombian nightclub and not spot the professionals. Are they really the guys you want protecting the president?
Congress is not happy about this. “It was totally wrong to take a foreign national back to a hotel when the president is about to arrive,” said Representative King.
It’s wrong to take a “foreign national” up to the room, but it would have been okay if she’d been from Des Moines? We’re all in favor of outsourcing, but in compliance with Section 27(e)viii of the PATRIOT Act, this is the one job Americans will do?
With respect to the congressman, sometimes it helps to step back and consider the bigger picture. Why were 21 officials of the United States government able to enjoy a night of pleasure with 21 prostitutes, whether “foreign nationals” or all-American? The answer isn’t difficult. Indeed, one retired agent spelled it out: “They just didn’t have anything to do.”
So they did Dania Suarez and her friends instead.
The 21 dedicated public servants jetted in on the so-called car-planes, the big transports flying in the tinted-windowed black Suburbans for the presidential motorcade. The “car-plane” guys show up a few days in advance, but usually two weeks or so after the really advanced advance team has hit the ground. And there was nothing for them to do. There is no reason for them to be there.
So instead they went to the Pleyclub.
…the more guys on the payroll, the less anyone does. For all the hooker-cavorting among a bored entourage with time on its hands, there was no one to proofread President Obama’s speech. So he stood up in public and attempted to pander to the Latins by referring to the sovereign British territory of the Falkland Islands by the designation of its temporary Argentine usurpers 30 years ago: “Las Malvinas.” Except that his writers got it wrong. So the president of the United States called it “the Maldives,” an entirely different bit of British Commonwealth real estate half a world away in the Indian Ocean….
Two big lessons here:
1. Throwing lots of resources at problems doesn’t necessarily equate to better solutions.
2. Staff needs to be managed.
One can rightly say that the Secret Service agents should have known better and, indeed, they should have. But Grandma Pundit used to say that “Idle hands do the Devil’s work.” Seems like a thought all management should keep in mind.