With an $823,000 budget, who in their right mind would hire a clown as entertainment - in Las Vegas?
John Neely, Regional Administrator for the General Services Administration, was responsible for a 300 person conference in October, 2010 at the Las Vegas, M Resort, that included a clown (not Neely) as entertainment.
Amidst great controversy, many GSA leaders including Neely, have resigned or been terminated and are now under congressional investigation for excessive spending and questionable business practices.
I would have fired Neely for overall incompetence based upon his inability to demonstrate simple party planning skills. Clearly anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to hire a clown in Las Vegas, a city famous for its variety of entertainment, is completely inept in any position. Perhaps Neely made an informed decision and a clown act, widely recognized as entertainment for young children at birthday parties was the appropriate entertainment for the GSA employees. Another performer, a mind reader earned every penny of his $3200 price tag. Imagine the challenge he faced as he scanned the audience and attempted to read the minds of the GSA employees.
At a cost of $75,000, GSA employees participated in a team building exercise requiring groups to build bicycles. The bicycles were then donated to the Boys and Girls Club. The bicycle parts couldn’t possibly have cost $75,000. However, the excessive team building price tag was obviously consumed by the enormous task of developing bicycle assembly directions for employees with such intellectual 'limitations'. In addition to the congressional investigation, I believe the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission should be contacted regarding GSA-produced bicycles; I’m genuinely concerned for the safety of the children at the Boys and Girls Club.
The Las Vegas conference expenses included $6,325 spent on commemorative conference coins presented in velvet boxes as a memento to all participants. To be clear, unless I misunderstand the definition of “commemorative coin,” $21.08 was spent per person to fabricate valueless currency for the sole purpose of annotating a conference memory. Commemorative coins are the adult version of the ‘Team Participation’ award that five year olds get when they play on their first soccer team. $8,130 was also spent on yearbook style albums given to all conference participants as a souvenir of the conference/vacation. What occasion would incite someone to pull out their commemorative coin memento and souvenir yearbook to reminisce over their five day conference?
According to auditors, prior to the conference, GSA employees flew to Las Vegas on two "scouting" trips, conducted five off-site planning meetings and performed a "dry run" at the M Resort three days before the event. Never mind the excessive $100,405 travel related expenses, who would be stupid enough to admit on an expense report that they needed a dry run to announce a clown and distribute commemorative coins?
Most GSA employees that attended the conference are likely trying to hide in a hole reminiscent of Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, anonymity is not an option for conference goers. In addition to testimonies and emails, images have now been made public including a photo of John Neely in a bathtub with a glass of wine and a video of an employee performing a dance, while dressed as the 1990's green clay humanoid character from “The Gumby Show.”
Normally I would say that the GSA conference defined the term “boondoggle” or “junket.” However, the food which included a "pasta reception station" and the relatively low bar bill (as compared to the high cost of the fake coins and dubious bicycles) all sound so lame, the terms boondoggle and junket simply don’t apply. If I had been in charge of an $823,000 conference budget boondoggle, you can be sure it would have been worthy of termination and all evidence, including photos and videos would have been destroyed. Taxpayers would have been shocked, dismayed and upset that they hadn't been invited. I'm upset that GSA employees don't even know how to effectively or offensively party with my tax dollars.
Forget the GSA for a minute. It took taxpayers two seconds to recognize that the conference cost was inappropriately excessive and borderline illegal. Why did it take congress two years to figure out that the GSA required investigation and reprimand?
According to their web site, the GSA is holding a conference April 26th in Washington DC and the topic is "Suspension & Debarment: Demystifying the Process & Values-Based Ethics." I don’t think there’s any great mystery here – ethics are inherently values-based and people get suspended when they do something they shouldn’t do – like spend $823,000 on a conference.
If teaching by example, then there's no group more qualified to offer training on demystifying the process of suspension and debarment than the GSA.