Patton Put-On

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.

Winners And Losers And General George Patton

As President Obama and congressional leaders work feverishly to negotiate an end to the debt ceiling impasse, I am sure most Americans are keeping our fingers crossed that the parties reach a meaningful agreement that allows the country to avoid a ruinous default and credit rating downgrade.

If a deal is struck, news media pundits will promptly declare who came out a “winner” and who came out a “loser” in this torturous process.  They may contend that President Obama was a loser because his call for increased taxes as part of a “balanced” approach was unsuccessful.  They may argue that the Republicans were losers because they were maneuvered into a last-second backroom deal that doesn’t make enough spending cuts.  Or perhaps the mantra will be that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats were marginalized during the final hours, or that “Tea Party” Republicans looked too uncompromising and unrealistic, or that progressives in Congress have lost their clout as the debate focuses totally on spending cuts.

The insistence on declaring triumphal winners and abject losers, with no middle ground, may be one reason why it has become so difficult for Washington to reach agreements.  No one wants to be a “loser” because they know that General George Patton was right:  Americans celebrate winners and despise losers.  In this case, however, it’s hard to see how anyone comes out of this ridiculous process covered with glory.  Our political leaders have failed to govern responsibly for so long, irrespective of which party has been in power, that there should be plenty of “loser” status to go around.

Update:  As predicted (except this writer finds a lot of “winners” in the process).