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View Full Version : $823k taxpayer dollars squandered in Vegas


MattW
04-06-2012, 06:52 PM
It's a couple of days old, but I didn't see anything here.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gsa-chief-resigns-amid-reports-of-excessive-spending/2012/04/02/gIQABLNNrS_story.html?tid=pm_pop

The chief of the General Services Administration resigned, two of her top deputies were fired and four managers were placed on leave Monday amid reports of lavish spending at a conference off the Las Vegas Strip that featured a clown, a mind reader and a $31,208 reception. Administrator Martha N. Johnson (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/martha-johnson/gIQAjODaAP_topic.html), in her resignation letter, acknowledged a “significant misstep” at the agency that manages real estate for the federal government. “Taxpayer dollars were squandered,” she wrote. At the start of her tenure in February 2010 she called ethics “a big issue for me.”

I'm not so aware if there is a media firestorm that one might expect from something like this, but at least resignations and suspensions are happening.

Some interesting bits from the investigators report:


>100k on multiple "planning trips", with many family members staying in additional government paid rooms/suites
Premium suites offered to planners if they chose that venue
Manager instructions for an "over the top" event, cost reduction suggestions were rejected
Revealing maximum cost limits during negotiation
Holding fake "awards" to circumvent expense rules
Yearbooks and commemorative coins for attendees
Clowns

robeiae
04-06-2012, 07:25 PM
So...Biden was in attendance?

Alpha Echo
04-06-2012, 07:30 PM
Clowns? Wow. Why? What adult likes clowns for anything more than a distraction for their kids? And as a Fed, one who works in budget and travel, I'd like to know when it became legal for us to pay for our family members to stay with us when we travel.

I kinda know about "awards." The rule is you're not supposed to have food and refreshments at a gathering unless you receive prior approval or are holding an award ceremony. At least, not at the expense of the government.

FAA did a similar thing a couple years ago.

Here was our short thread on it: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=166153&highlight=Federal+Aviation+Administration

I guess us Feds never learn. People I work with were actually at that party...I mean training meeting.

Lyra Jean
04-06-2012, 07:51 PM
Well at least I know what GSA means now. The report I saw never explained the initials and when I first heard thought they were talking about the Girls Scouts of America.

Alessandra Kelley
04-06-2012, 08:08 PM
Yep. That's outrageous. The GSA has seriously failed Obama.

So much for Martha N. Johnson's pledge "to run the agency as ethically as possible after years of scandal during the Bush administration."

Not sure if it counts as a media firestorm, but I have seen stories about this on CNN, ABC, and, well, all over. (http://news.google.com/news/story?hl=en&gl=us&q=gsa&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ncl=djDYkD8st6ieJMM_5OdU7KekPZAqM&ei=Dgt_T5PNF5KO8wTn1qy_Bw&sa=X&oi=news_result&ct=more-results&resnum=2&ved=0CDcQqgIwAQ)

I tried to find what $800K could pay for in the federal budget, but the only news stories the term googled were about small town's departments of education or budget for postage stamps.

I suspect there's not as much of a firestorm as there could be because, disgraceful as this is, $800K is peanuts compared to some of the other amounts of money being dubiously spent.

As a comparison, it's the cost of about two days of Romney's campaigning this February. (Not to say that's dubious, only to give a sense of scale)

regdog
04-06-2012, 08:27 PM
I always knew clowns were evil

Gregg
04-06-2012, 08:52 PM
Yep. That's outrageous. The GSA has seriously failed Obama.

How about failing the taxpayers.

Teinz
04-06-2012, 08:53 PM
I read about in the NY Times. It's idiots like this, who give every honest governmentworker (and government in general) a bad name.

Alessandra Kelley
04-06-2012, 10:00 PM
How about failing the taxpayers.

Absolutely.

Don
04-06-2012, 11:39 PM
Well at least I know what GSA means now. The report I saw never explained the initials and when I first heard thought they were talking about the Girls Scouts of America.

How about failing the taxpayers.
From Mission, Vision and Goals (http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/100735) at the GSA website: (bolding mine)
The GSA mission is to use expertise to provide innovative solutions for our customers in support of their missions, and by so doing, foster an effective, sustainable, and transparent government for the American people.

Our Vision

The GSA vision is a government that works ever better for the American people.

This vision:

Insists upon continual improvement in all that the GSA does, so that the mission work of our customers is not vulnerable to stagnating tools, services, and work environments but, instead, is accomplished with the benefit of excellence and forward leaning expertise.

Positions the government to be ever adapting its work environments, tools, and processes so as to better serve the public. The GSA uses the notion of “the future workplace” to express and visualize this evolution for its customers.

Is fueled by two powerful sparks for change, namely sustainability and transparency. The former is a doctrine for managing resources with utmost care and an obsession with “no waste.” The latter is a doctrine for inviting our collective intelligence and wisdom to our work.
:roll: :ROFL:

MattW
04-07-2012, 12:56 AM
I suspect there's not as much of a firestorm as there could be because, disgraceful as this is, $800K is peanuts compared to some of the other amounts of money being dubiously spent.

As a comparison, it's the cost of about two days of Romney's campaigning this February. (Not to say that's dubious, only to give a sense of scale)
It might be that this is a small figure, but as stated in this thread and elsewhere, this was an agency committed to doing htings differently, and being the government that people would want. They failed at that, and not in a minor way, and with full awareness and intention of their excess.

If we can't trust these folks to be good stewards of taxpayer monies, what is escaping notice at those agencies who have no pledge or goal for financial accountability?

Alessandra Kelley
04-07-2012, 01:00 AM
It might be that this is a small figure, but as stated in this thread and elsewhere, this was an agency committed to doing htings differently, and being the government that people would want. They failed at that, and not in a minor way, and with full awareness and intention of their excess.

If we can't trust these folks to be good stewards of taxpayer monies, what is escaping notice at those agencies who have no pledge or goal for financial accountability?

I agree, and think the GSA should be carefully examined. They betrayed their mission.

MattW
04-07-2012, 01:12 AM
I agree, and think the GSA should be carefully examined. They betrayed their mission.
I think it might even be the opposite - the GSA has been slapped, and the rats might hunker down for fear of more firings and bad press. It's the rest of the government that need the light of day shined into them - the big departments, the expense ones, the secres ones, the politically sensitive ones.

If one GSA boondoggle could waste hundreds of thousands, imagine what a few dozen similar missteps could cost at DoD, Treasury, and Social Security.

Alessandra Kelley
04-07-2012, 01:16 AM
I think it might even be the opposite - the GSA has been slapped, and the rats might hunker down for fear of more firings and bad press. It's the rest of the government that need the light of day shined into them - the big departments, the expense ones, the secres ones, the politically sensitive ones.

If one GSA boondoggle could waste hundreds of thousands, imagine what a few dozen similar missteps could cost at DoD, Treasury, and Social Security.

Agreed.

backslashbaby
04-07-2012, 01:36 AM
It's really an ironic, sad tale, isn't it? OTOH, it sounds like human nature. I have never worked at a large place that didn't try to throw the biggest party whenever possible, with other people's money.

Compare that to the little French and Italian restaurants where I worked, where you were lucky to get to drink the client's mix of coffee :D

I don't know what you can do about it, except have great oversight. Make it someone else's profit motive to pick apart the first group's behavior. Yeah, the workers/managers hate that, but it's what it takes if we're not just being naive, imho.

Don
04-07-2012, 02:52 AM
It's really an ironic, sad tale, isn't it? OTOH, it sounds like human nature. I have never worked at a large place that didn't try to throw the biggest party whenever possible, with other people's money.

Compare that to the little French and Italian restaurants where I worked, where you were lucky to get to drink the client's mix of coffee :D
Here's why.
There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income. - Milton Friedman Fox News interview (May 2004)
I don't know what you can do about it, except have great oversight. Make it someone else's profit motive to pick apart the first group's behavior. Yeah, the workers/managers hate that, but it's what it takes if we're not just being naive, imho.
The bolded sounds like a great idea to me.

victoriafoyt
04-07-2012, 03:05 AM
LOL @ Clowns... really?! :roll:

clintl
04-07-2012, 03:09 AM
What did anyone expect? "Squander" and "Vegas" are two words that always go together.

Don
04-07-2012, 03:39 AM
This kinda blows the whole "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" advertising campaign, doesn't it?

MattW
04-07-2012, 03:49 AM
What did anyone expect? "Squander" and "Vegas" are two words that always go together.
Paraphrasing Jon Stewart, but they went to Vegas with 800k and all they got were clowns? Disgraceful example of corruption.

aadams73
04-07-2012, 03:54 AM
Clowns??? CLEARLY they were trying to terrify their employees into silence.

Alessandra Kelley
04-07-2012, 03:54 AM
Here's why.


The bolded sounds like a great idea to me.

Really? When I spend my money on myself I try to spend the minimum necessary to get the minimum acceptable thing. But when I spend my money on others, I look for very high quality items for them and I'm inclined to spend more freely. In other words, I care very much about the content and less about the cost.

It doesn't really fit your system.

Alessandra Kelley
04-07-2012, 04:36 AM
As for the other two cases:

When I spend other people's money on me, it really depends what it's for. If it's some sort of a celebratory occasion, a gift, and they insist it has to be for me, I'm likely to get something useful for myself which is normally something of an extravagance, such as an art book or art supplies or good winter boots. If it is for food, I'm likely to get something towards the low end of the menu. Or buy some really high quality grocery ingredients. But context matters so much; it always matters what the occasion is.

If I am spending other people's money on other people is when I am the most careful steward I can be, because I am responsible both to the people giving the money and the people receiving it. Whatever the context of what the money is for, I try to get the best value -- not the cheapest, but the best quality at a reasonable price. If I am told the money is for luxuries, I still try to find ones that are well-made. Handling other people's money on behalf of other people is when I am most careful about quality and how much is being spent.

I don't quite see the logic of that other system.

Xelebes
04-07-2012, 05:17 AM
As for the other two cases:

When I spend other people's money on me, it really depends what it's for. If it's some sort of a celebratory occasion, a gift, and they insist it has to be for me, I'm likely to get something useful for myself which is normally something of an extravagance, such as an art book or art supplies or good winter boots. If it is for food, I'm likely to get something towards the low end of the menu. Or buy some really high quality grocery ingredients. But context matters so much; it always matters what the occasion is.

If I am spending other people's money on other people is when I am the most careful steward I can be, because I am responsible both to the people giving the money and the people receiving it. Whatever the context of what the money is for, I try to get the best value -- not the cheapest, but the best quality at a reasonable price. If I am told the money is for luxuries, I still try to find ones that are well-made. Handling other people's money on behalf of other people is when I am most careful about quality and how much is being spent.

I don't quite see the logic of that other system.

Furthermore, how does one explain the roles of purchaser and comptroller within any organisation if what Friedman said is true?

Alpha Echo
04-07-2012, 08:12 AM
[It's really an ironic, sad tale, isn't it? OTOH, it sounds like human nature. I have never worked at a large place that didn't try to throw the biggest party whenever possible, with other people's money.


You know, that's true. Before I became a Fed, I worked for a private industry. I won't give you the name, but no matter where you are in the world, you've probably heard of them.

Regardless, it was a family-owned business. Despite its worldly popularity. And the family owned BEAUTIFUL yacht. A HUGE yacht.

On which the men were able to play.
Yes, men.

AncientEagle
04-07-2012, 08:29 AM
As for the other two cases:

When I spend other people's money on me, it really depends what it's for. If it's some sort of a celebratory occasion, a gift, and they insist it has to be for me, I'm likely to get something useful for myself which is normally something of an extravagance, such as an art book or art supplies or good winter boots. If it is for food, I'm likely to get something towards the low end of the menu. Or buy some really high quality grocery ingredients. But context matters so much; it always matters what the occasion is.

If I am spending other people's money on other people is when I am the most careful steward I can be, because I am responsible both to the people giving the money and the people receiving it. Whatever the context of what the money is for, I try to get the best value -- not the cheapest, but the best quality at a reasonable price. If I am told the money is for luxuries, I still try to find ones that are well-made. Handling other people's money on behalf of other people is when I am most careful about quality and how much is being spent.

I don't quite see the logic of that other system.
Don't feel alone, Alessandra. A lot of us, me included, often don't see the logic of Milton Friedman.

MattW
04-07-2012, 04:27 PM
Furthermore, how does one explain the roles of purchaser and comptroller within any organisation if what Friedman said is true?
The GSA is a purchasing agent for the Federal Government - have they earned any trust?

But I understand your statement - some individuals are given positions to hold others responsible for neither of their money. That has to be difficult to stay vigilant, but people do manage to be effectice auditors.

In publicly traded companies, there's usually a legal expectation to avoid criminal misuse and maintain SOX compliance, and then a stockholder expectation of appropriate expenditures in the interest of the company. Being an internal watchdog or auditor is no easy task, but most accountants I've worked still can get the job done.

In the various government deparments, that is one of the roles of an OIG. A somewhat independent function, holding agencies accountable for spending within policy and law.

RichardGarfinkle
04-07-2012, 05:34 PM
The GSA is a purchasing agent for the Federal Government - have they earned any trust?

But I understand your statement - some individuals are given positions to hold others responsible for neither of their money. That has to be difficult to stay vigilant, but people do manage to be effectice auditors.

In publicly traded companies, there's usually a legal expectation to avoid criminal misuse and maintain SOX compliance, and then a stockholder expectation of appropriate expenditures in the interest of the company. Being an internal watchdog or auditor is no easy task, but most accountants I've worked still can get the job done.

In the various government deparments, that is one of the roles of an OIG. A somewhat independent function, holding agencies accountable for spending within policy and law.

Private auditors have a fair number of scandals as well:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accounting_scandals


Corruption happens and must be policed. But I don't think that one can draw a stronger conclusion than that.Ultimately, whatever someone has to watch the watchmen and make it clear, by firing the actual people involved, that this kind of thing will not be tolerated.

MattW
04-07-2012, 10:28 PM
Private auditors have a fair number of scandals as well:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accounting_scandalsNo doubt. People are people.


Ultimately, whatever someone has to watch the watchmen and make it clear, by firing the actual people involved, that this kind of thing will not be tolerated.
Like you said, trust the watchers, but verify (up to absurd points of watchers watching watchers). Examples must be made when things are uncovered - in this case, swift action and the GSA chief resigning is a good indicator. Letting something like this drag out in the press, and finally caving before pressure accomplishes nothing but increasing public apathy/animosity toward government.