July 17, 2009
Confessions of a gov junketeerBy Jeanette Colville
This week's dust-up over a mere $700,000 federal employees "group-hug" at the ritzy Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix made me chuckle. Ah, the memories that story brought back from my twenty-five years as an authentic, although sometimes reluctant, gov junketeer.
Oh yes, ask any retired federal government employee and they'll tell you that the "motivational" management conference has always been the norm, rather than the exception, regardless of the dark winds of ObamaNomics. ABC Reporter Josh Bernstein provides an update on the Phoenix gov junketeers who had the misfortune to be observed by the media.
What a naïve young woman I was when I raised my hand in front of the American flag and took the oath of a government civil service employee. Silly me, I had the naïve impression that civil service meant that I would be serving American citizens -- our agency's customers. My mindset was: What can I do to serve the public? Watching those around me, it didn't take long to catch on that the mindset among the more experienced government employees was a little different; it went like this: What can the government do to serve me?
For a civil service novice, this mindset becomes all too visible in the unfolding of the endless stream of agency "conferences," both regional and national, orchestrated under the themes of motivational enhancement, stress management, time management, total quality management, and team building -- you name it, the government sponsored it, and you, the taxpayer, paid for it.
Gov junketeers were offered a wide range of "conference" settings -- the Colorado Rockies, the Arizona desert, the ski slopes of Utah, Alaska snowscapes, the beaches of Hawaii, and the big city nightlife in D.C. and New Orleans. My last all-expense-paid weeklong group hug was at the lavish Phoenix Camelback Inn - perfect for golf lovers
For those Alaska gov junketeers feeling a touch of the long dark winter blues, we hosted an employee management team conference in sunny Hawaii at the beachfront Kona Village Resort. Hula dancing and luau all part of the team building.
For fans of urban shopping and river walking, we gathered at the Portland Marriott Residence Inn. Fine dining and motivational bonding in a trendy setting.
Do you like to ski? Where else than Park City, Utah for a grand interagency gathering to watch ethnic dancers and feast at a motivational banquet. Accommodations included cozy suites with working fireplaces.
A true gov junketeer learns how to take advantage of much more than just the all expense paid fine dining, luxury accommodations, airfare, and cash reimbursement for miscellaneous expenses. If one watches veteran gov junketeers closely, one learns the fine art of advanced vacation junketeering.
While attending a week-long government employee "retirement training" conference at a resort in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains, I noticed that a coworker attended the first session on the first day, and then disappeared for the rest of the week, reappearing on the morning of the final day. Where had he been? Hiking in the mountains, he said, laughing.
When attending a gov junketeer conference in Albuquerque, a coworker attending the first morning of the first day of the week-long conference disappeared for the next four days, arriving back just in time for the closing session. Where had he been? Bird watching all over New Mexico, he said, thanks to having access to a government-paid rental car and gas card.
Other popular gov junketeer motivational conference sites I attended included the luxury Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage overlooking the Cook Inlet. Motivational activities included trips to view glaciers and watch Sockeye salmon runs.
Tired of mountains and deserts? How about a gov junket to the rugged Oregon Coast? The Shalishan Resort is a popular "retreat" for serious team building, in between golf, tennis, and treatments at the spa.
Skilled gov junketeers learn the ropes quickly and never head to the airport without a handful of official government forms giving them tax-free status on all charges and on personal travel allowance reimbursements.
I estimate the cumulative costs to the hard working American taxpayer for my gov junkets over twenty-five years of civil service employment at a minimum of $35,000 -- and for that investment, whether I was in D.C., Denver, Anchorage, Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Reno, I learned how to stretch my arms behind my back (a motivational training exercise), why America is an evil place because of the income gap (motivational banquet keynote speaker at Ft. Collins, Colorado), and how to play a game with five other people called: Stranded on a Desert Island (a motivational team building exercise).
I was but one tiny cog in but one federal agency. If you think AIG spent a lot of money on entertaining its executives in style, they were pikers compared to Uncle Sam.