A Philosopher's Blog


Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on April 9, 2012

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.

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8 Responses

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  1. anon said, on April 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

    But what does a smart, responsible, mature reaction gain an office holder when the “other side” will just blame them for not “being hard on waste” and being in bed with corruption? If you break your finger, why waste all of that time and expense with a splint and waiting for it to heal when you can just chop off your finger, hand, or arm?

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on April 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Waste not want not. Waste of taxpayers monies in Washington DC is the one issue no one in Washington wants to talk about. Washington DC is booming, economically speaking, although the rest of America is collapsing. Time for austerity measures and higher taxes!

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      I do wonder how much gets wasted in less extreme but similar things. I know that when I have gone to conferences and events, I get a modest amount of stuff (usually cheap things like pens and very low-end messenger bags). However, even a modest amount of stuff still costs. While this might seem like small stuff, the $820,000 the GSA blew in Vegas would pay the salaries for about 20 teachers for a year.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on April 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Wake up and smell the Kafka.

    From the GSA website. “Cost-effective” is practically a mantra.

    GSA develops governmentwide regulations and policies that encourage agencies to use the best, most cost-effective management practices.


    Tangherlini presides over the nation’s premier federal acquisition and procurement agency. GSA leverages the buying power of the federal government to secure, in the most cost-effective, transparent, and sustainable manner possible, the goods, services, and real property that the civilian federal government needs to operate.

  4. dhammett said, on April 10, 2012 at 10:51 am

    GSA deserves all the criticism it receives. The guilty parties must be punished. The most damnable aspect of the scandal is the fact that GSA is not new to the world of scandals/stupid mistakes and that this foolishness is arguably not the most expensive foolishness they’ve been involved in. The site of the Ted Weiss Federal Building is a glaring example that ultimately cost the taxpayer much more than this Las Vegas travesty.

    See first bullet under Controversy.
    But, timing and location are everything it seems, and this most recent one’s just too juicy not to squeeze dry.

    A proposal: Let’s corral the GSA and all federal departiments, all of Congress, the executive and judicial branches, Wall Street, corporations– like Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, and many more–the legal system and the church* , get out the whipping post and flail away. Get out the rack and the stake for some of the ol’ stretch and burn. We’re dealing with cardinal sins here. Stupidity—the overweening Pride that convinces these oafs that they can get away with anything. Greed. Gluttony.

    At the end of the day at least four obvious choices remain. Continue punishing and torturing as we recognize the futility of doing so, take down the institutions that provide fertile soil for the weaknesses of man to flourish, do both, or be patient and work mightily to improve institutions to make them less prone to stimulating the weaknesses that plague man’s character. The church, it seems, is trying to do the latter. Corporations and financial institutions say they can achieve that goal. and we seem to have little choice but to believe them. What Do we do then with the government and legal system that provides the structure upon which our country stands. Punish the wrongdoers (as the wrongdoers are punished in corporations, the church, etc with taps on the wrists) and simply move on? Drown the system so corruption will die from lack of nourishment? Or strive honestly and mightily to improve on the system we have?

    And then we can work on some corruption problems at the state and local levels. . .

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      On a positive note, corruption is generally eventually caught and punished. Of course, the timeline for the catching is generally long and the punishments are often a bit light. However, corruption is still condemned here, while it is standard practice in some other places. This is not to excuse our corruption, but it is good that we still condemn it-at least in cases when we are not getting those sweet $4 shrimp one someone else’s dime. I certainly hope that shrimp was good. 🙂

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