Thursday, April 19

The GSA's Las Vegas Clown Act

 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.

Wednesday, April 18

Virginia's State of Mind: George Will on Drugs

Why is it that the people who didn’t inhale are considered to be more qualified?
George Will has been vocal on the topic of drug legalization and recently wrote an article debating the merits of drug legalization in the Washington Post. Will shadows his ignorance of illicit drugs with an age old writer’s jedi mind trick: if a multitude of obscure polysyllabic words and complex sentence structures are used in an article, the reader will assume that the author is intelligent and therefore must be correct. In this instance however, no amount of jedi skills could mask the fact that Will just doesn’t know a whole lot about drugs, which would be good, if he weren’t writing about drugs.
Using a hypothetical example Will said “So, suppose cocaine or heroin were legalized and marketed as cigarettes and alcohol are…That would be a public health disaster.” Either Will has chosen a hypothetical argument for the sole purpose of titillating his readers or he truly has no understanding of illegal drug use. Does anyone think it’s a good idea to legalize heroin?
To be clear, the suggestion here is not a statement that drugs should or should not be legalized. The suggestion is a demand that if the American drug policy is going to be discussed in a broad public forum, let’s do it intelligently and make sure that knowledgeable individuals have all of the facts in order to make informed decisions.
If you were going to start an orange juice company, would you hire a management team that didn’t drink juice of any kind and in fact had never even seen an orange tree? I suspect Will has never tried heroin nor would he recognize a poppy plant if it were growing in his backyard. In the public discussion of drug legalization why isn’t one person included who has direct experience with illegal drugs?  There are many fully functioning recovered addicts successfully contributing to society. Their brain might be a little fried, but at the very least you could be sure that a recovered cocaine addict would have an experienced opinion.
In his article Will says, “because the costs of prohibition…are staggeringly high, some people say, “Let’s just try legalization for a while.” Who are the “some people” Will is referencing?  By chance, is their last name “Escobar?”
Will broadly addresses legalization of all illegal drugs. He has lumped marijuana with cocaine, and heroin effectively grouping all illicit street drugs. Illegal drugs aren’t created equal. Legalization may be a realistic option for marijuana but not for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, etc. Marijuana can and should be categorized differently because it’s impossible to overdose on marijuana, it isn’t chemically addicting and tolerance doesn’t change over time – users don’t require more marijuana to get the same experience unlike cocaine or heroin. 
The obvious implications of legalizing marijuana have been published by both university and government studies. It’s commonly known that the major public benefit of legalized marijuana is financial. However factors besides the tax revenue haven’t been considered. The increase in the level of happiness among the general population produced by widespread marijuana use has not been measured. The consequential impact to secondary markets, such as brownie mix manufacturers has also not been analyzed. Of course, there might also be a sharp decline in adult team sports such as league soccer.
According to Will there is potential that, “Legalization of cocaine and heroin would cut their prices…and using high excise taxes to maintain cocaine and heroin prices at current levels would produce widespread tax evasion – and an illegal market.” The potential illegal market fueled by tax evasion (think Al Capone) should be the least of Will’s concerns. To date the illegal drug industry has by definition been managed by criminals. In addition to a deep knowledge of illicit drugs, these criminals have exhibited ruthless business acumen and an adept ability to skirt law enforcement agencies. Will and his political analyst debate buddies have much greater issues to contend with than tax evasion.

An industry that grosses big money is an industry that wields enormous power in D.C. Here’s a thought: if drugs such as cocaine are legalized, the drug manufacturing ‘companies’ will form an association (that’s the legal term for cartel). The drug business is incredibly lucrative and the drug association will have a river of money to hire lobbyists that will visit every senator in D.C.  It won’t take long for the drug association lobbyists to help the D.C. senators, political analysts and George Will understand that if the government wants to get tax revenue from legal, clean cocaine, the government won’t also have the luxury of solely setting up the sales and distribution ground rules.

My favorite line in Will’s article is his conclusion that, “Furthermore, legalization would mean drugs of reliable quality would be conveniently available from clean stores for customers not risking the stigma of breaking the law in furtive transactions with unsavory people.’ Here’s my question for Will, if drugs are legalized, will the “unsavory” people that were previously selling illegal drugs now become savory people selling legal drugs? And, if Will starts smoking pot will he lighten up and eat brownies?
by, Virginia Will Russell (read that twice)