A $462,000 party

Massive government procurement can be an irresistible temptation to spend money in ways not intended by Congress or taxpayers.

Tech Culture

A key component of this special report is the potential for waste and abuse in the maze of regulations and bureaucracy that is the Department of Homeland Security. For the record, our decision to examine this particular department was not an arbitrary "fishing expedition" based on uninformed guesses or idle assumptions. We knew that the department had already made some questionable use of taxpayer money in other areas, so it made sense to scrutinize its record on technology contracts and policies as well.

For instance, other news organizations and whistleblower groups had exposed various shenanigans, such as the job posting for an "entertainment liaison officer" to help ensure accurate portrayal of the department's work in movies and on television--a director-level position that pays as much as $136,466 a year. The job's location? Hollywood, of course.

And just last week, the Associated Press obtained an internal report that one of the department's agencies threw a $462,000 party for itself and doled out $1.45 million in bonuses without going through appropriate approval processes. The costs for the Transportation Security Administration's soiree last November at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, billed as an awards ceremony for employees, included nearly $200,000 in travel and lodging expenses, according to a report by the department's own inspector general.

Even without such examples, I knew from my experience as a Washington correspondent in the 1980s that the department could make the same mistakes that led to the infamous Pentagon procurement scandals of Ronald Reagan's Cold War administration. Although no $436 hammers or $7,000-plus coffee makers have come to light as they did back then, today's massive homeland security contract apparatus could lead to that kind of idiocy without sufficient oversight.

Massive government procurement can be an irresistible temptation to spend money in ways not intended by Congress or taxpayers, especially when contracts and marked "classified" and cloaked in the flag of national security. And anytime a government undergoes significant restructuring--not to mention a consolidation of 22 agencies--a certain amount of stupidity and malfeasance is inevitable.

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