Reputations can take years to make, but only a moment to destroy. History is full of examples where one misstep by an adored public servant damages his or her legacy, perhaps for a lifetime.
For government communicators, too much of our time is spent reacting to news rather than generating it. A report, "Governmentwide Purchase Cards," released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is another example where the costly actions of a few employees hurts the reputation of an entire industry.
The report focuses on credit card abuse by federal government employees. The examples it cites are juicy. GAO found purchases for internet dating services, $160 per person dinners and employees buying iPods for personal use. In a 10-year period, purchases on federal credit cards jumped from $3 million to nearly $18 million. In addition, several agencies could not find or account or some equipment purchased.
Consequently, several agencies over the next few days are going to have to respond to these charges. Already, we see several stories about the report in the news. To those of you having to do damage control this week, we feel your pain.