Friday, December 30, 2005

DC Junkets

From The Washington Post:

The District spends $5.5 million a year on travel for its employees, far more than other cities, and often with minimal records to justify the expense.

A review of city travel documents over the past five years shows that officials have routinely authorized overseas travel and dispatched public servants in packs to attend week-long conferences in casinos and resorts. Employees have misused their official travel credit cards and failed to account for thousands of dollars in advances.

On average, the District spends about $220 per employee on out-of-town travel each year. That compares with about $40 per employee in Baltimore, $80 in San Francisco and $150 in Philadelphia and is also higher than the figures in Houston, Denver, Phoenix, Seattle and several other jurisdictions, according to a survey by The Washington Post.

Sometimes these figures are hard to put into context, so the comparison to other cities is definitely significant. Meanwhile, DC declares itself to be in such dire financial straits that it needs to steal tax revenue from neighboring jurisdictions.
More than any other agency, the city's school system racks up travel expenses by sending clusters of employees to training and seminars. In 2003 and 2004, that agency averaged $60,000 a month.
Predictable responses from city officials:
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said in a statement that he is "constantly looking for ways to make the government more accountable and efficient, and we will certainly scrub travel records to make sure out-of-town trips are done economically and strictly for professional development."
Not only are these junkets expensive, but many are simply absurd:
The definition of necessary business can be broad. The Department of Transportation spent about $2,000 in federal funds to send a traffic engineer to study highway safety in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2002. The agency said he learned that the Russians were "years behind."
Once you're done laughing at that an incredibly obvious observation, perhaps someone can explain why DC would concern itself with highway safety in Russia. They're hardly even concerned with getting jaywalkers out of the streets in the District.

Then there's the stay at a resort hotel for a self-segregation convention:

In 2003, lottery director Jeanette A. Michael decided at the last minute to attend the National Forum for Black Public Administrators but did not get the necessary authorization before the trip.

She stayed four nights in a $376 "ocean front deluxe" room on a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., beach and said she spent the time mentoring young public officials. The hotel, registration, food and air travel cost taxpayers $2,346, records show.

A month after she returned, she sought authorization for the trip, offering to pay the portion of the lodging that exceeded government limits. But the city never asked her for any money, Michael said in an interview.

The full article is worth reading for the many other examples of wasteful spending.

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