Social Security ‘Pampering Scandal’

Kevin Drum patiently explains to the folks at Townhall and NRO that holding a three day convention in a central location for $1071 a person is far from a boondoogle.

That’s unbelievable.  SSA must have some world class penny-pinching accountants and event planners on their staff.  I doubt there’s a corporation in America that would even try to budget less than two grand a head for something like this.

Considering that said figure includes transportation, meals, entertainment, and whatnot, it is indeed quite the bargain.

One wonders, however, whether the taxpayer got $750,000 worth of value added out of the convention.  What sort of “organizational training” do Social Security Administration managers need that involves dancing, skits, and casino gambling?

This isn’t an anti-government rant, per se.  This sort of thing happens in the private sector all the time and, as already noted, at higher cost.  I’m just generally dubious of retreats, conventions, and the like as productive enterprises.

Photo by Flickr user platinum under Creative Commons license.

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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. Steve Plunk says:

    If the corporation does it the stockholders have a right to complain. If the SSA does the taxpayers have a right to complain. Taxpayers have less patience for this sort of thing so the complaints are valid and reasonable. Drum’s defense is easily taken down.

    I agree retreats and the like are more likely veiled rewards and morale builders than productive use of resources. In the public sector they seem more of a way to have fun on the taxpayers dime while claiming it’s necessary.

  2. This really is an outrage. Arizona? For gambling? Las Vegas is just a few hundred miles away and they practically give the rooms away!

    How are these people going to fix social security with the kind of table limits imposed at a phony Arizona casino? They need to be able to bet billions to have even a chance at getting well. Even then we’re talking thousands of hours at the craps table.

    If not Vegas the only other plan is the Republican plan to bet it all in the stock market.

  3. Michael says:

    Considering that said figure includes transportation, meals, entertainment, and whatnot, it is indeed quite the bargain.

    Indeed, I spent about that much on recent trips to L.A. and Tennessee, and I was pinching every penny. Transportation and lodging alone can easily reach $1000 per person.

    What sort of “organizational training” do Social Security Administration managers need that involves dancing, skits, and casino gambling?

    I presume that there wasn’t a “gambling allotment” given to those attending, that rather they gambled with their own money.

    I’m just generally dubious of retreats, conventions, and the like as productive enterprises.

    It all depends on who’s in attendance and why. My recent trips were for conventions, and the contacts and conversations I had during them were well worth the expense.

  4. Janis Gore says:

    Better to have taken the cap and trade folk over there and asked, “What do you think about the air conditioning?”

  5. Furhead says:

    I agree retreats and the like are more likely veiled rewards and morale builders than productive use of resources.

    I agree they could be veiled rewards, but are morale builders not productive? Of course they are, but the question is really whether the (probably temporary) productivity boost is worth the money.

    Plus in my line of work working with people around the globe, communication seems to be improved when you occasionally sit down face-to-face with them.

  6. sam says:

    @Steve P

    If the corporation does it the stockholders have a right to complain.

    Get real, Steve. If a corporation does it, it’s written off as a legimate business expense, and some other taxpayers pick up the burden.

  7. odograph says:

    Re. comparing to private industry.

    I will never forget the conversation I had with someone in the California university system. He told me that they were getting Aeron chairs for department secretaries. I said “WTF?” He said “industry does it.” I said “only overblown dot-coms do it for secretaries.

    I think in the high flying days (especially) people in government felt they were entitled to “equal perks” with industry. When the drew their examples from the worst in industry, it was that much worse.

    I really hope now that our new frugality, our new normal, will be reflected back into government just as excess was then. It’s just tragic that government didn’t stay the old-old normal and frugal all along.

  8. James Joyner says:

    If a corporation does it, it’s written off as a legimate business expense, and some other taxpayers pick up the burden.

    Uh, no. Businesses have a limited ability to write off entertainment and training expenses against income, just as they do with other legitimate costs of running the business. The pay taxes on their profits.

  9. Janis Gore says:

    Why would the government have sent a social security junket to Phoenix other than to evaluate means-testing?

  10. David says:

    I think it might help to look at it as a benefit. Knowing that this type of thing is part of the job may help increase the SSA’s chances of landing a better employee. There’s significant business value in that as well, “temporary productivity boost” or no.

  11. Janis Gore says:

    Benefit, my ass. It’s 107 degrees in Phoenix today.

    Are you all from Canada or something?

  12. sam says:

    Businesses have a limited ability to write off entertainment and training expenses against income, just as they do with other legitimate costs of running the business.

    I thought that’s what I said. We can quibble over the scope, if you like. But the fact remains, businesses can deduct a training expense from gross income as a cost, no? Costs go up, net income, and thus taxes, go down. No?

  13. Janis Gore says:

    Sorry about the language. I’m in Louisiana and we just broke on the low side of 95 a few days ago.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Costs go up, net income, and thus taxes, go down. No?

    Sure. That’s a different thing than the taxpayers paying for it, though, which is what I thought you were implying.

  15. Drew says:

    Please, Sam. The corporation is not duty bound to make a certain profit that can be taxed.

    And further, the corporation reduces its profits by Y so that it can save the tax rate x Y ??