Official Washington’s rapid response to the General Services Administration’s billionaire-bachelor-party level of profligacy is welcome, as it goes. However, GSA’s much-maligned, $822,751 team-building extravaganza in Sin City is like a whispered prayer compared to daily life in Washington. Alas, when it comes to partying ’til the money runs out, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas.
After sacking two subordinates, GSA administrator Martha Johnson appropriately resigned as news emerged about her agency’s now notorious 2010 Las Vegas junket. At least five other GSA employees have resigned or been suspended or fired. Its taxpayer-funded decadence included $6,325 for commemorative coins, a $7,000 sushi bar, a $31,208 “networking reception,” a $75,000 bicycle-building exercise, and six location-scouting trips that cost $130,000. Before receiving “yearbooks” as parting gifts (price: $8,130), participants marveled at the taxpayer-funded services of a psychic and a clown.
“We have taken bold, swift, forceful action to hold those responsible accountable and put in place protections to make sure this never happens again,” a White House official told Fox News Channel’s Ed Henry last week, just before — what else? — blaming the mess on rising event costs under Obama’s predecessor. “If Bush administration folks had acted under their watch, the 2010 debacle could have been avoided.”
Representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) and Senator Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) plan hearings on this imbroglio, underscoring it as a source of bipartisan, bicameral disgust.
GSA deserves all of this incoming fire, especially after a rap video emerged in which its employee, Hank Terlaje, bragged about the agency splurging tax dollars “all on fun.” As Terlaje “sang”: “Donate my vacation / love to the nation / I’ll never be under OIG investigation.”
As it happens, GSA’s Office of Inspector General did look into this. In fact, an OIG investigation uncovered Terlaje’s video. His performance reportedly helped Terlaje win the Vegas blowout’s talent show. For that distinction, GSA Deputy Commissioner David Foley appointed Terlaje “commissioner for a day.”
Though understandable, fretting about this fiasco is a bit like obsessing over the lack of ice in an in-flight beverage while one’s trans-Atlantic jet plunges toward a “water landing.” Yes, bourbon would be better on the rocks, but more profound discomforts loom.
Similarly, it would be lovely if simply restricting GSA staffers to their desks would make even a cocktail napkin’s worth of difference on Uncle Sam’s dismal finances.
Not bloody likely.
On good days, the pace of federal spending rivals the speed of Air Force One. On bad days, it could break the sound barrier.
As Stephen Dinan observed in Friday’s Washington Times, March 2012 was the 40th consecutive month of federal deficits. Last month alone, Washington spent $196 billion more than it collected.
“The government never has run a surplus in any month during President Obama’s tenure,” Dinan wrote. “The longest previous deficit streak on record was 11 months.”
Washington has racked up deficits of $777 billion for the first six months of this fiscal year, the Congressional Budget Office reports. When FY 2012 concludes next September 30, the federal government will have hatched another $1.2 trillion budget deficit. That sum alone would enable the GSA to reprise that Las Vegas bash 1,458,520 times.
Of course, this is not Uncle Sam’s first trillion-dollar deficit. This will be the fourth straight year in which at least $1 trillion in red ink has cascaded from the capital.
These annual deficits collectively constitute the national debt. That sum has soared past the $15.6 trillion mark and is climbing toward today’s national debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion. Uncle Sam’s top hat will slam into that barrier by October 15, just in time to create a huge campaign issue this fall.