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Our Views: Time to crash the parties
After recent scandals, government employees at every level should respect publics money, earn trust
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

So does anyone still think we don’t need to keep close tabs on ethical behavior by government officials? If so, take a look at recent scandals in the nation’s capital involving members of the General Service Administration and Secret Service.

A branch of the GSA, a federal agency that provides operational support to other departments, was found to be spending your tax money like it fell off the back of a truck. In particular, we learned of a conference in Las Vegas that included gourmet food, a clown and a mind reader, all running up a total tab of $823,000.

Other such trips and lavish expenses have been uncovered, this in a time when our national debt is reaching unimaginable numbers and federal spending is already out of control.

Beyond the excessive spending, the other disturbing element of the GSA scandal is the expectation that the agency’s employees would keep quiet and not fink on their bosses. One official said those who might be tempted to blow the whistle feared they would be “squashed like a bug.” Pacific Rim region commissioner Jeffrey Neely, who orchestrated the Vegas bacchanalia, was accused of running a “fiefdom” in that office.

That type of intimidation and mob-like pressure is further indicative of a department of government that believes it can live by its own rules and is accountable to no one. It doesn’t take an expensive mind reader to tell us that stinks like week-old sushi.

Adding arrogance to insult, Neely pleaded the Fifth Amendment at one U.S. House hearing on the scandal and didn’t show at another.

Then came the Secret Service brouhaha in Colombia, where agents preparing for President Barack Obama’s visit to a Cartagena conference enlisted the service of local prostitutes. The incident could involve as many as 20 agents and military personnel, including five Green Berets. Several already have lost their jobs over the incident, with more firings likely to come.

The Secret Service is the agency assigned to protect the president, its agents trained to take a bullet, if necessary, to guard his life. Yet in this case, those involved only served to embarrass the commander in chief and distract from his role at the conference.

This kind of nonsense drives people crazy. We’re in an election year when serious leaders on both sides of the political fence are debating the size, scope and cost of government. When we see agencies abuse their power and finances to this extent, it’s tempting to throw in the towel.

This is why so many Americans from both parties are fed up with a government that no longer seems designed to serve the public’s needs but merely to feed upon itself.

These matters also point out why, closer to home, the push to strengthen ethics laws for state government officials is so vital. When lawmakers are wined and dined by lobbyists and have their pockets filled with plane and sports tickets, it can only lead to abusive behavior. That goes for every level of government, from the president down to the local school boards. These folks aren’t elected or hired to savor the perks of office. Too often, they lose sight of that.

It’s not that those who serve in public office are bad people. Quite the contrary; the majority are good folks doing honest work, with only a few bad apples making them look bad.

But because we human beings all have flaws, anyone can act irresponsibly when handed power and unlimited budgets. That’s why accountability checks need to be put in place so such temptations are not an option. That means tough ethical laws enforced by independent watchdog groups, with zero tolerance for the rule- breakers and severe consequences for those found guilty.

We all can make poor decisions. But when most of us do so, it only affects us and our employers. When government officials misbehave, it gives the whole nation a black eye. We’ve had enough of those, thank you, and don’t need cement-headed bureaucrats who are on our payroll further violating our trust.

Those found guilty of misconduct in these two scandals should be fired so fast it makes them dizzy. Criminal charges should apply, if applicable. The way to deter such behavior is to make an example of these clowns so others won’t be tempted to pull the same intolerable shenanigans in the future.

And let us again remind all who work in government jobs, whether are elected or appointed: You work for us. The money you spend is ours, not yours, and comes out of our paychecks. Your job is to serve the public and treat the public’s money with respect. If you want to party, do it on your own time and your own dime.

And if you can’t live up to that basic standard, go work somewhere else.

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