The GSA is currently in the media spotlight. More accurately, the agencies lavish $823,000 conference (complete with $4 shrimp) in Las Vegas has been getting the attention.
The ethics of this situation are rather clear: those responsible for this acted wrongly by wasting public money on this lavish event. While conferences can (perhaps) be a legitimate part of the agency’s operations and conference that are legitimately part of work should be covered by the agency, the spending was both excessive and unnecessary. It was also, as comedians have pointed out, amazingly lame for Las Vegas. On the plus side, they did produce quite the music video:
In addition to the wrongness of the initial incident, there is also the moral concern about the responsibility of the people who are supposed to keep an eye on such matters. While the head of the agency did resign, that hardly restores the wasted money and clearly does not undo the damage done by the incident.
In a time in which many Americans are struggling, this sort of wasteful excess is a slap in the face of the taxpayer. It also lends credence to the view that the state is out of control and provides a rather vivid focus for those who contend that we are taxed enough already. After all, if the GSA can blow money on commemorative coins and “yearbooks”, then it makes it a bit harder to argue that taxes should be increased. After all, why should we hand over our money so that some government jack ass can have $4 shrimp while reading his/her custom yearbook in Las Vegas?
As I see it, the Obama administration needs to act decisively in this manner and punish those responsible. The wasteful spending of the GSA clearly constitutes corruption and could even be cast as the theft of federal funds. As such, I do not think that criminal charges would be out of place here. At the very least, all the money beyond the legitimate expenditures should be returned by those responsible. That should help deter future cases of this sort of foolishness.
I will, of course, note that this sort of foolish and wasteful excess is not uncommon. It occurs not only in government, but also in education (most commonly administrators) and the private sector. In some cases, it might start with good intentions, but such waste is inexcusable-especially now.
The Republicans will, sensibly enough, try to use this incident for political points. Of course, the same sort of things have (and will) happen under Republicans-excess and waste are clearly bi-partisan in nature. What we need is not people scoring easy political points but a significant effort to ensure that this sort of thing does not occur again. Or, more realistically, that efforts are taken to make such events less likely and to recover the lost money from the responsible parties.