Perhaps by now you have heard about the lavish conference put on by the General Services Administration back in 2010. The GSA lived large in Las Vegas with hired entertainment, gourmet food, commemorative coins, and hotel selection junkets. The final price tag was $823,000.
Jeffery Neely, the official responsible for this debauch, was hauled in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and pleaded the Fifth. Various members of the House, from both parties, took the opportunity to express their shock, disgust, and indignation.
Everybody in Congress is piling on at this point, especially Republicans, who must be secretly rejoicing at this election year gift.
From the Washington Post: Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) called the episode “a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars.” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said it reflects the “waste that exists in a bloated federal government.”
Can’t argue with that, really, except that one man’s bloat is another man’s vital project.
I’d like to direct your attention to the Future Combat System. This was a Department of Defense project, cancelled a few years ago, that promised to link military vehicles with a web of real time positioning information, targeting data and communications that would revolutionize warfare. It failed. It failed right out of the starting gate and got more money thrown at it. It couldn’t pass basic tests of functionality. Test results were fudged and more money was budgeted. It kept failing. This went on for years. It was finally scrapped in 2009. The ultimate cost? Roughly $159 billion.
The hardy partiers of the GSA are austere monks compared to the DoD. I did the math.
The GSA would have to throw a lavish Las Vegas conference every weekend for 3,715 years to equal the amount of money flushed down the Future Combat System. Yes, 3,715 years, 52 booze soaked, commemorative coin flipping weekends per year. Imagine that the GSA had existed in the Early Bronze Age (Circa 1700 B.C.E), when wooly mammoths still roamed Wrangell Island. If Neely’s distant predecessor had started out by milking the Shang Dynasty for performing astrologers and birds nest soup, they’d just be hitting $159 billion right now.
I’m willing to bet that at least four out of five members of congress who have sputtered and fumed about the GSA conference also voted regularly to fund and re-fund the Future Combat System. It’s a good bet, because the military contractors who sucked up that $159 billion cleverly spread out the contracting across 41 states. Change that four out of five to 41/50ths.
Oh right, but the Future Combat System was military waste. That’s different. Military spending is special and magic. Members of congress have argued that government spending on infrastructure doesn’t create jobs, and then argued that pointless and wasteful military contracts (located in their states) shouldn’t be cut because they…wait for it…create jobs.
I will wholeheartedly agree that the GSA Western Regions Conference of 2010 was a waste of time and money. However, its cost was a rounding error on the budget of a moderately sized Pentagon procurement contract. Let’s get our outrage priorities straight.