It's a grim day when the ethics officer is hauled off for misdeeds, when the environmental officer is caught littering or when the guard dog snuggles up to the burglar. These are the kinds of failures that get magnified in our imaginations, much in the way that a murder gets a bigger headline when the perp is a doctor.

So it was in Washington when the news broke last week that a unit of the General Services Administration (GSA) had trampled all over its own procurement rules when arranging a Western Regions Conference two years ago at the M Resort Spa Casino in Henderson, Nev.

The GSA is the government's property manager and procurement office. Part of its mission is to promote efficiency by establishing guidelines for travel and purchasing. And yet it snuggled up to the burglar.

The headlines said it all: "Waste and Abuse!" "GSA Administrator Resigns." "Two Officials Fired."

The facts were damaging enough that the U.S. Travel Association, rightly fearing another backlash against business meetings, released a statement urging federal officials to react with restraint. Restoring and preserving the government's respect for the value of meetings and conferences happens to be part of the platform of policy initiatives that U.S. Travel is promoting in its Vote Travel campaign.

For public relations purposes, the GSA disclosures could not have come at a worse time, except for the fact that Congress wasn't in session last week.

It will take awhile for the GSA to live this down, but it bears remembering that GSA management requested the inspector general's investigation and concurred in the finding that the meetings planners' expenditures were "excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissible."

Even before she resigned, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson initiated disciplinary actions against senior managers responsible for the affair.

That doesn't mitigate all the damage, but it helps.

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