The U.S. government has an agency, the General Services Administration. It supervises real government-owned estate. It supervises government purchasing. It also throws terrific parties. Expensive parties.
You may have read of the party in Las Vegas that cost taxpayers $800,000. That got a lot of attention three months ago. Well, the GSA is at it again. It spent $270,000 on an awards ceremony for its employees.
It was supposed to be be good for morale.
The GSA made a mistake, twice. It was a mistake described by British political scientist C. Northcote Parkinson over 50 years ago. People can understand $270,000. They can’t understand $270 million. They surely cannot understand $270 billion.
Parkinson said that politicians will be outraged by a little waste by a government agency, since they can understand the degree of waste. Huge waste will never be noticed. There will be no hearings for gigantic waste.
The GSA specializes in wasteful parties. It therefore gets into the limelight.
Almost two years ago, it held an awards banquet. It had been holding these ever since 2002. This gives you some indication of lag time in Washington.
$34,073 for the Crystal Gateway Marriott event, including $20,738 in catering charges;
$7,697 for the Key Bridge Marriott reception, which included hors d’oeuvres, a violinist and guitarist;
$140,464 for “coordination and logistical management” by a firm called Gallagher & Gallagher Inc., which included $104,484 for management services; $20,578 for 4,000 drumsticks given to attendees; $5,390 for five buses, two mini-buses, and a van; and $10,010 for entertainment by “Mission Possible Agent X” management.
$28,364 for 4,000 “time temperature picture frames” provided by Small Wonders;
$7,810 for 68 shadowbox frames by Award Crafters;
$8,588 for something called “Agent X appearance” by JDG Communications, Inc.;
$41,735 for travel for 49 attendees.
You can see the GSA’s problem. We can understand this degree of waste. So can House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), who said in a press conference Thursday that the revelation “makes everyone’s blood boil,” and that the “committee is appalled.”
The spending was of course appalling. So is the $1.2 trillion federal deficit, but almost nobody in Congress gets upset. That’s because no one can understand $1.2 trillion.
GSA Inspector General Brian Miller told Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a member of the subcommittee that oversees the agency, he is investigating the 2010 event. “We have begun a preliminary analysis of the information we have received from the agency and have opened an administration investigation,” Miller confirmed. “Our initial findings show costs upward of $268,732 for the one-day ceremony.”
If it were my decision, I would demote the Inspector General to Inspector Corporal.
In a statement Thursday, the GSA condemned the awards ceremony, adding that such frivolous spending “must stop.” “This event took place in 2010 and has been in existence going back to 2002,” the agency disclosed. “Today, under the new GSA leadership, this event and type of spending is not tolerated. As of April 15th, 2012 all spending for events, including training conferences, leadership events, team building exercises, award ceremonies, were suspended. These events indicate an already recognized pattern of misjudgment which spans several years and administrations.”
Translation: “Sadly, we finally got caught. All good things must come to an end.”
This was choice: over $140,000 went to a marketing and public relations firm. for “coordination and logistical management.”
Sorry, guys: this gravy train has now left the station.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) echoed his colleague with a similar note: “It is deeply troubling to learn that more than a quarter million dollars in hard earned taxpayer money was wasted so that certain GSA employees could congratulate themselves.”
Translation: “I am shocked. Shocked!”