GSA splurges endemic of D.C. culture

When elected and appointed officials in Washington whine that they don't have enough money and that no one understands how expensive it is to govern, perhaps they should look at things like this when wondering why no one outside the Beltway believes or trusts them.

An inspector general reported to Congress on Thursday that the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees the business of the federal government and which operates on a $26.3 billion annual budget, spent more than a quarter-million dollars -- more than $268,730 -- throwing itself a lavish one-day awards ceremony.

If you go to the GSA website, it will tell you that the GSA's "acquisition solutions supplies federal purchasers with cost-effective, high-quality products and services from commercial vendors. GSA provides workplaces for federal employees, and oversees the preservation of historic federal properties. Its policies covering travel, property and management practices promote efficient government operations."

Indeed, on Nov. 17 in the awards event that was so well-managed that it spanned two Washington hotels -- the Crystal Gateway Marriott and the Key Bridge Marriott -- GSA handed out gifts and awards to the tune of more than $50,000 to the people who attended. It also handed out, unbelievably, 4,000 drumsticks at a cost of $20,000 so attendees could play along with a drum band exercise.

Inspector General Brian D. Miller told Congress that GSA rolled up tabs of $20,738 for catering, $7,697 for a reception, $10,010 for entertainment, $28,364 for time/temperature picture frames, $7,810 for shadowbox frames, $8,588 for "Agent X appearance," nearly $42,000 for travel for attendees and nearly $104,500 for a company called Gallagher & Gallagher to provide "coordination and logistical management."

This comes after it was discovered that GSA officials in Western states took their taxpayer credit cards and visited places like Hawaii, the South Pacific, Napa Valley and Palm Springs, where they stayed at plush accommodations and entertained themselves with expensive parties.

But at least the agency toned it down from its 2010 conference at Vegas, where 300 GSA personnel got together, joked around with a clown, learned wondrous things from a mind reader and made a rap video that lampooned, of all things, excessive spending. That cost American taxpayers who have trouble making ends meet about $823,000, give or take an animal balloon.

An acting administrator is running the agency now, and federal officials say the GSA travel bug was squashed back in April. In an election year, we expect Congress to be properly outraged by these revelations, and by any that follow.

The sad thing is that this type of arrogant, wasteful spending is imbedded in Washington culture. In May, a storm hit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration when it posted a want ad for a magical motivational speaker. NOAA officials wanted to pay $3,500 for a magician to attend its June leadership conference and speak about "the magic of change," complete with "physical energizers, magic tricks, puzzles, brain teasers, word games, humor and teambuilding exercises."

Here's some change that would be magic -- people we elect and hire to work for us in Washington, D.C., figure out that we sent them there to work in the real world, not a taxpayer-funded Fantasy Land.