How Wasteful is Government? Oh, You Can’t Even Imagine…

Let’s say you were in charge of a conference and you wanted a couple of videos made, to help liven up the mood. You know the kind of video I’m talking about — a goofy little spoof of some popular movie or television show full of inside jokes that will make the attendees feel welcome and get a little bit loose. You might drop a few hundred bucks on each one, maybe a couple or three thousand of you had a big budget and were feeling generous. But would you feel generous enough to spend $5,000 a video? How about $10,000?

How about $26,000?

Expenditures at two conferences held in Orlando last year for Human Resources employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs totaled up to $9 million, according to an investigation by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Among these expenditures were $84,000 for branded promotional items, such as pens, $3,000 for two event photographers, and a whopping $52,000 to produce a pair of eight-minute videos spoofing the film “Patton” that were shown at the conferences. The videos, provided by the committee, are below.

Folks, I’ll be straight with you. These days, if you spend more than $10,000 for any conference video (or, for that matter, any political ad released on the internet), you should be fired for rank incompetence. I could name four people right now who would have made both those videos for a third of what the Department of Veteran Affairs paid for just one. Of course, government employees aren’t held accountable for how much of our money they toss down a rat-hole, so they had no impetus to find quality creators at a lower cost. In fact, they couldn’t find enough motivation to keep their spending within the extravagant budget they were given.

[A]ccording to a letter sent by committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and ranking member Bob Filner (R-Calif.) to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki this week, this profligate spending may be the tip of the iceberg.

The congressmen cite committee testimony from VA Chief Financial Officer W. Todd Grams last year indicating that conference spending for Fiscal 2011 topped $100 million, despite a rough $20 million having been budgeted for such events.

Let that sink in for a minute. They had $20 million dollars to spend on conferences in one year, which means they could have held a conference every month and spent $1,666,666.67 on each one. The Department of Veterans Affairs is large — it had nearly 280,000 employees in 2008 and the federal government has only grown since then — but not so large, I think, that it would require an expensive conference every month. Despite that lavish budget, though, the agency felt it needed more. Five times more.

One hundred million dollars worth of conferences, or more than $8.3 million dollars every month.

That, folks, is so far past appropriate that it’s not in the same time zone. It’s not even on the same continent. Our bureaucrats in Washington, the people who work for us and who live off the money they take our of our hands whether we like it or not, are out of control.

We have a chance to retake control of our government in November. To be sure, it will take more than one election to carve government down to an appropriate and responsible size, but we have to start now. Insist that your candidate go to Washington not with a scalpel but with a sledgehammer. Demand they devote their time to smashing the byzantine arrangements that allow unaccountable government employees to squander your money without consequence (do you think anyone will be fired as a result of this story?) so that when they’re done, they leave Washington smaller and simpler for the person who follows them. Then insist the next person to the same. And the person after that. In time, hopefully in less time than we think, we will have a government that does what we need it to do instead of a government that exists to buy votes for the people who run it and coddles the fat and happy bureaucrats who think $26,000 for a goofball video is an appropriate use of our children’s’ money.


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