What is a reasonable cost for a conference for 300 civil servants from across the western US?  Airfare, food, lodging, conference facilities, speakers, prep, etc., etc.  From the news stories, it’s clear that $823,000 is way too much.  Next year’s conference, I’m just guessing, will be substantially less extravagant, so let’s say $300,000.  That means the General Services Administration overspent by $523,000.

That’s a half million dollars Americans had to give the government whether they wanted to or not (or at least working and middle class Americans, rich folks seem to have an “or not” clause in the tax code).  That’s the reason for all the indignation.  I think of myself as a cheerful taxpayer; I’m happy to chip in for all those things that we need to share in common.  My own vacations are pretty modest and I don’t want to be forced to send the people who work for me to resorts I can’t afford to visit myself.

At the same time, I don’t need to see a bunch of hearings with Congressmen (who are themselves overpaid and coddled) bloviating at GSA bureaucrats.  That doesn’t make me feel better.  Getting the money back, that’s what’ll make me feel better.  Accountability. Take the top ten people at GSA and charge them $523,000, divide it up however you like.

Can’t do it?  Why not?  You’re Congress or the White House or both.  Write a regulation, put it in the civil service manual, take ‘em to court.  Spending another two million on hearings so politicians with bad comb-overs can posture about excess spending doesn’t help at all.

If Barack Obama or Mitt Romney want a plank to run on, accountability is a good place to start.  Hey, Secret Service agents and Special Forces personnel – you wanna party with whores in Colombia?  You now owe the American people your plane fare, food and lodging expenses and any other additional costs to replace your sorry asses on the mission you just bungled so horribly.  Oh, and please pay your prostitute.  And you’re fired.  What is this “allowed to retire” crap, anyhow?  Allowed to retire on a government pension and then go work for corporate America at twice the salary (and twice the whores) as before?  That’s not accountability we can believe in.

(Let me just say as an aside that I have dealt with the Secret Service, both uniform and plain clothes, active duty and retired and I can say without fear of contradiction that it is entirely in character for them to be the kind of guys to a) solicit prostitutes for sex, b) take them back to a hotel riddled with – d’oh! -security cameras and c) try to cheap out on the price the next morning.  Clint Eastwood, these guys ain’t.)

But I digress. The point is accountability and it should cover the federal (and state and local) government like the dew on a spring morning.  In Afghanistan, we’re apologizing (again) because our troops took frat house photos with body parts.  This after we apologized for burning Korans and that followed the apology for videos of troops pissing on dead people.  Combine stuff like that with kicking in doors in the middle of the night and somehow people will just not want you in their country.

Two years ago tomorrow, the biggest oil spill in US history erupted in the Gulf of Mexico, just weeks after President Obama gave a speech saying those things don’t happen anymore.  Yesterday, that same president’s blue-ribbon commission on the spill blasted Congress for failing to pass laws that might prevent a repeat, while at the same time the administration has granted permission for another giant oil company to drill in the Arctic Ocean, where the Coast Guard says it has no way of responding to, much less cleaning, an oil spill.

This is all from one week.  Four serious incidents, all stemming from the fact that our federal government consistently fails to hold anyone accountable.  No wonder we’re frustrated.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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