GSA: Party animals or sacrificial lambs?

Monday - 4/9/2012, 2:00am EDT

It's probably safe to assume that the average American worker has no real idea what the average federal government worker does to earn his or her keep. Some citizens probably picture the federal establishment as millions of clock-watching, pencil-pushing clerks.

Or jerks. With a few exceptions.

It is probably equally safe to assume that the average federal worker — in D.C., Pennsylvania or California — doesn't understand what the typical farmer, miner or entrepreneurial non-fed does for a living.

But thanks to some fun types at the General Services Administration, just about everybody knows what goes on when feds take the equivalent of an all-expenses-paid vacation on company time. GSA's now infamous party-till-you-puke conference (aka blowout) in the Nevada desert is all the "proof" anti-government types need to prove Uncle Sam is the whale all casinos love to entertain.

GSA even made the Jay Leno show joke-list — something that federal workers and politicians should avoid at all costs.

Details of the lavish spending were unearthed by GSA's inspector general and first reported by The Washington Post. Among other things, the agency spent $136,000 for a pre-conference in Las Vegas to plan details for a much bigger shake-and-bake session in nearby Henderson, Nevada. That's sort of like going to prep school in Sodom before taking a vacation to Gomorrah.

The appropriate number of heads appear to have rolled. Those include Administrator Martha Johnson, who was co-chairman of the Obama administration transition team. She also served in the Clinton White House and as a political appointee at Commerce and GSA in the 1990s.

Members of Congress — who are accustomed to being wined, dined, jetted and entertained by lobbyists, corporations and unions — express shock and horror at the shenanigans of the 300-plus GSA workers who attended the Nevada night sessions.

Republicans who run the House have promised a thorough investigation of the GSA party scene. Fair enough. When Democrats controlled the House, they ran a lengthy, expensive (and successful) campaign to oust the GSA administrator appointed by President George W. Bush.

So is GSA the party animal of the federal service? Depends. Compared to the Defense Intelligence Agency, it may be. On the other hand, there is a history of costly-to-dubious government conferences going back decades including Democratic and Republican administrations.

How bad is it? Again hard to say.

The GSA bad boys (and girls) represent only a fraction of the agency. And they don't include faceless feds like those that process our tax refunds, handle our Social Security payments, deliver the mail, take care of us at VA hospitals or prevent a terrorist attack on LAX airport.

This is nothing compared to the corporate parties like those hosted by the late, great folks at Enron. Or more recently by the shindigs and bonuses given to executives who drove their firms into the wall, only to be bailed out by Uncle Sam — which would be you.

But, as they say, not bad for government work.

But very bad for the already tattered reputation of feds who collect the money to provide services — including things like national defense — none of whom were invited to the Nevada spree.

Click here for full coverage of the shakeup at GSA


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

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