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The $750,000 Government-Employee Pampering Scandal

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

How quickly can 700 government employees spend three-quarters of a million taxpayer dollars at a resort hotel?

Last week the Social Security Administration flew approximately 700 of its managers from across the U.S. and Guam to Phoenix, Arizona’s posh Arizona Biltmore Hotel and Resort, for “organizational training.” The event, which included musical entertainment and dancing, skits, catered food, cocktails, and a “casino night” featuring “door prizes,” cost us lowly taxpayers approximately $750,000.

Forget that the Social Security Administration, a division of the U.S. Government to which every American is required by force of law to hand-over a portion of their earnings, has been headed for insolvency for over a decade. Ignore the fact that SSA is estimated to waste hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year in faulty “overpayments.”

And as long as we’re experiencing a need for disregarding details, make sure you overlook these facts, as well: The United States Federal deficit is rapidly approaching $1 trillion (last month it surpassed $991 billion). The Congress and our President spent $787 billion (dollars that haven’t been collected yet - remember, the government is in “red ink,” and politicians are spending money that they don’t yet possess) back in February to “stimulate” the economy, and now, with the economy continuing to sag, are contemplating another “stimulus package.” President Obama, insisting that our government must take-over the health care industry, has now proposed a “reform” bill that imposes a tax on the money that Americans already spend on health insurance, and uses that new tax revenue to pay for the “universal healthcare” that is to be provided to other Americans (other healthcare bills in Congress propose to levy a “surtax” on “rich” Americans, so as to fund “universal healthcare”). And after a four-week slide in stock prices and the announcement of new, higher unemployment figures, President Obama insisted last week that his stimulus plan “has worked as intended,” and is now considering a ‘financial bailout” plan for America’s privately owned small businesses.

But forget all that stuff. Pay no attention to the fact that our government is bankrupt. The managers of our Social Security Administration needed to get out of the office, come together face-to-face, let their hair down and have some fun together, do some “team building,” and get trained on how to “reduce workplace stress.” And when William La Jeunesse of the Fox News Channel showed up at the resort asking to speak to the SSA, the childish incompetence of our public servants was put on display for all the nation to see.

La Jeunesse asked SSA Spokesman Peter Spencer about a matter that many Americans have not forgotten: the indignant tirade in Washington last Fall over executives of the AIG Corporation spending $440,000 on their own corporate retreat. AIG, of course, had managed itself into a financial crisis, and had accepted government bailout funds from the Bush Administration. The thought of a corporation feeding at the public trough, and still enjoying luxurious “corporate travel and entertainment” as millions of Americans on Main Street were losing their jobs, was, understandably, an outrage, and then-Senator Obama called for the executives involved in the “scandal” to be immediately terminated.

So La Jeunesse wanted to know why the SSA’s taxpayer funded retreat was okay, when the AIG Corporation’s retreat was not. “There’s a clear distinction between the two” SSA Spokesperson Peter Spencer explained. “They (the AIG Corporation) received specific bailout funds, we did not…”

Mr. Spencer was, of course, playing the American people for fools. Whether you call it “bailout funds” or an operating budget, government money is our money, the people’s money. All the money that government possess comes from our tax payments.

And while American workers in the “real world” face layoffs, pay-cuts, the elimination of expense accounts, and moratoriums on corporate travel and entertainment ( wasn’t the annual “holiday party” eliminated at your place of employment a year or two ago?), it is disgraceful that government employees think its okay to sit in the lap of luxury at our expense.

Neither the President nor members of Congress are able to control all the indiscretions of government bureaucrats, but they can certainly demand an investigation into the waste of our tax money. Republicans in Congress should demand congressional hearings on this matter, and demand them now.

But whether or not Congress acts prudently, the rest of us private citizens can not act like the ignorant fools that Mr. Spencer presumes us to be. Americans must stop turning a blind, passive, albeit cynical eye to agents of our government who insist on taking ever-increasing amounts of our private wealth and re-distributing it according to their own plans, all the while enjoying the spoils of our labor and using their positions of power for their own selfish purposes. This description applies to government bureaucrats, members of Congress, and the President, alike.

And as for Mr. Spencer - he should determine how Social Security will continue to pay-out benefits to American workers, rather than budgeting for stress-reducing retreats.

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