Feds Go to Disney

Washington Times “Inside Politics” columnist Greg Pierce reports on what looks to be a boondoggle for federal bureaucrats.

A three-day, expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World Resorts — sound like a dream vacation? No, it’s “research,” according to four federal agencies sponsoring a June 3-5 conference in Orlando, Fla.

The 2007 AcademyHealth Research Meeting is slated for Disney’s posh Swan and Dolphin resort, which boasts “an environment of elegance and opulence” featuring “the beauty and tranquility of waterways and tropical landscaping.”

Federal sponsors include the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Health Services Research and Development Service of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Web site — www.academyhealth.org/arm — for the taxpayer-funded conference features a palm tree logo that one congressional staffer says perfectly “conveys that ‘bureaucrats on the beach’ atmosphere.” The Web site lists corporate sponsors for the event (including the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly) and such speakers as AHRQ’s Philip Cooper and Lyle Nelson of the Congressional Budget Office.

It’s all rather amusing, especially the event logo:

Health Research Boondoggle Photo

Still, there may not be much to this. As Pierce notes, there are eleven private sector sponsors. It may well have been there decision to hold it at the resort and they could well be footing most of the bill. And, this month at least, the resort has rate packages starting at $199 a night, which is hardly unreasonable in a major, airport-accessible city these days. (By the way, the resort website is very annoying, auto-loading an annoying video on virtually every page.)

There’s plenty of waste going on in our bureaucracies. Because it’s not their money — and because there are arcane rules for spending that quite often forces paying higher prices than available at the local Office Depot — they waste money on a daily basis. And the nature of civil service career status is that some organizations have substantial dead weight unwilling and/or incompetent to perform their assigned duties.

Below the level of political appointee and senior executive service/flag officer grade, though, there’s not a lot of money spent on lavish entertainment and luxuries for the employees. Indeed, even such amenities as coffee pots and microwave ovens are typically donated by the employees themselves because regulations prohibit sending public funds for that sort of thing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Still, there may not be much to this. As Pierce notes, there are eleven private sector sponsors. It may well have been there decision to hold it at the resort and they could well be footing most of the bill.

    So, instead of politicians wasting our money on Disney trips, they’re getting them paid for by corporate interests. Brilliant! We should let corporations sponsor more “research” trips to tropical locations for those making decisions about our collective good. What could possibly go wrong?

    On a side note, if you are going to have a large conference in the Orlando area (it’s technically Kissimmee), these hotels would be an obvious choice. And being 45 minutes from them, I can tell you that they are no where near any beaches (unless you count the artificial ones at Disney’s water parks).

  2. 'bureaucrats on the beach’ atmosphere

    Michael made the same observation I did. They’re in the middle of Florida, not on some ocean-side property.

    To give a mild defense of the federal employees if the government paid for their trip they get rip for fleecing the taxpayer. If private firms flip the bill the employees are being corrupted. They can’t win either way except not to have the conference in the first place.

  3. Michael says:

    To give a mild defense of the federal employees if the government paid for their trip they get rip for fleecing the taxpayer. If private firms flip the bill the employees are being corrupted. They can’t win either way except not to have the conference in the first place.

    Or they could pay for the trip themselves. That’s how most of us go to Disney.

  4. Only in the public sector is this even a gripe. If these same people were in the private sector their employers would pay for their trip.

    When there are plenty of spaces in D.C. to have this conference I understand the complaints. But in the big scheme of the federal budget this isn’t much of a waste. Not when billions fly out from earmarks and unconstitutional government programs.

  5. Michael says:

    Or they could pay for the trip themselves. That’s how most of us go to Disney.

    It turns out this is exactly what they did. From the event’s website:

    Reserve your guest room by April 30 (after which time all requests will be on a space available basis only) to receive the discounted group rate of $200 for single occupancy and $210 for double occupancy.

    Doesn’t exactly sound like an expense-paid trip for those attending.

    Maybe Pierce was complaining that federal departments are sponsoring the event. Given what this event is about, it makes sense for those government agencies to be sponsors. Sponsorships range from $3,000 to $25,000 depending on the amount of advertising you want. Neither Pierce’s article, nor the organizer’s website list the level of sponsorship from these agencies.

    I don’t exactly see what there is to complain about here, and I’m not usually shy about complaining about this particular administration.

  6. cirby says:

    The Swan/Dolphin hotels have a beach. It’s a man-made one on the man-made lake between the buildings (they connect by a causeway). It’s, well, okay. I guess. Not exactly Waikiki.

    Describing the Swan and the Dolphin as “posh” is a bit extreme, too. They’re nice, big corporate hotels (this must be a pretty big conference, if they managed to sell out the 2265 rooms in the two buildings). The Dolphin has some BIG convention spaces, too – one of the largest ballrooms in Central Florida (and that’s saying something, in a town with this many convention hotels). Over 300,000 square feet of meeting space between the hotels.

    The complex is one of the two or three most popular convention spaces in Central Florida – the ones that are arguably more popular are bigger AND more expensive – and there are a number of actual “luxury” hotels in the area that could pretty much double the room rates for a meeting.