You have to hand it to federal employees — they may be mindless bureaucratic drones in their jobs, but when it comes to spending tax dollars, they’ve got more creativity than Pablo Picasso.
The latest evidence of this phenomenon comes from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which ponied up $5 million for two week-long training sessions for human resources personnel at the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida — apparently the world’s largest convention hotel. The $5 million included $52,000 spent to create a parody of the opening scene of the film Patton, as well as $84,000 for promotional items like highlighters and hand sanitizers. (A story about the contents of the video, with a link to the video itself, is here.) In all, 1,800 people attended the conferences, at a cost of $2,734 per person.
The VA has an important function, of course, but spending $5 million so HR personnel can be trained at a glitzy conference center — as opposed to spending the funds to better help veterans with their health care, job training and placement, and social reintegration needs — doesn’t seem like a wise use of tax dollars.
Credit should be given to the House of Representatives committee that is investigating this incident, as well as the possibility that the VA officials deciding where to hold the conference may have received improper gifts. Congress has an important role to play in examining federal funding and shining a spotlight on waste. The current oversight work recalls the watchdog efforts of prior legislators, such as former Democratic Senator William Proxmire and his “Golden Fleece” awards given to agencies that engaged in frivolous spending. Ferreting out and ending wasteful federal spending shouldn’t be a partisan issue.