Magic Bullet: How a Small Gift Shot Down a Huge Contract

This post, written by David Wyld, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum

It is one of the simplest ways to educate people about ethical behavior. Whether you are dealing with your employees or your kids, perhaps the most effective way to teach people about how to make the right ethical decision is have them think about a basic question: How would you feel if what you did was headlined on the local paper? Odds are many of us, and perhaps our parents, were taught to live our work and personal lives by answering this straightforward question over and over again. And of course, as an acquisition executive, no matter what specific code of ethics or legal requirements your jurisdiction may have in place, you hope that your staff thinks about this simple question when making decisions that may fall into a gray area.

And so it’s always a good day for an agency and its executives when the local newspaper (or to update the analogy, the paper’s website or app) bears no mention of any questionable conduct by one of the agency’s employees. Such was not the case recently for the administrators at the Los Lunas School District in Los Lunas, New Mexico, in suburban Albuquerque. And what was the headline splashed across the front page of the Albuquerque Journal? Well, it involved skeet shooting…

Antonio Sedillo is a construction supervisor with the Los Lunas Schools, and as a hobby, he is a skeet shooter who recently participated in a skeet shooting competition in Albuquerque. The problem arose when another skeet shooter, who was employed by a local construction firm, saw that Sedillo was actually shooting in the event as part of a team from McCarthy Building Companies. Sedillo’s $125 entry fee for the competition had been paid for by McCarthy Building, which had recently been awarded a $24 million construction contract by the school district for the new Los Lunas High School. And who was on the school district committee that evaluated the bids from McCarthy Building and four other competitors? You guessed it—Mr. Sedillo! And who did the curious fellow shooter who reported Sedillo being on McCarthy’s team? As you probably guessed, he was employed by one of the losing firms!

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