It has been reported by the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Administration that the VA spent between $3 million and $9 million for two conferences of employees in Orlando in one year. Expenditures included alcohol, gift baskets, concert tickets, embroidered pillow cases, stretch limousines, helicopter rides, spa treatments, photographers, pens, highlighters, and hand sanitizers. The VA may have spent $100 million since 2009 on conferences.
Last spring, top officials of the General Services Administration resigned after disclosure of an $800,000 four-day conference for regional employees in Las Vegas where money was spent on entertainment, food, bike parts to build bikes (as part of a team-building exercise), and gifts.
These purchases may have been in violation of various federal laws, like competitive bid requirements or dollar caps on gifts, but – really – it is hard to get to worked up about this. Cut these men and women some slack. These federal officials obviously claim President Obama as their model.
I haven’t seen any allegations that the VA and GSA officials involved did not get what they paid for or that the price paid was exorbitant. And purchases of photography services, alcohol, bike parts, hotel rooms, airfare – it all helps the economy. According to the protocol for tabulating the Gross Domestic Product, all expenditures by every level of government get added toward the GDP. These VA and GSA officials stimulated the economy.
What’s a few hundred thousand dollars, what’s a million here and there by the GSA and VA and the host of other federal agencies for purchases not directly tied to their mission? The President’s so-called stimulus package was, after all, a whopping $830 BILLION. And the President smiled later that, contrary to what he said when he urged its passage, there really weren’t any “shovel-ready” projects. Just as with GSA and the VA, money exchanged hands, goods and services were obtained, but did we get the bang for the buck, the economic kick for the huge debt, that was promised?
And of course there’s the $535 million loan to Solyndra. Did anyone get anything of value – even helicopter rides, entertainment, spa treatments -- for this “team building exercise” of Energy Secretary Chu’s? And there was, and is, so much more than Solyndra in the Obama Administration.
Spero columnist James M. Thunder is an attorney practicing in the Washington DC metropolitan area.