Boondoggle in Paradise

In today's Post, Al Kamen rightly fires a few shots of moral approbation at the senior leaders of the National Guard for holding their annual conference in the Virgin Islands. No doubt so they could conduct a feasibility study of snorkeling for the new Army physical fitness test. Kamen writes:

Hundreds of their top state and national leaders were also away from home this week, deployed to protect the Eastern Caribbean from infiltration by our enemies.

Yes, it's the Adjutants General Association of the United States Spring Conference on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, aptly titled "Guarding Paradise With Culture and Spice."

The week-long gathering of the top brass -- with a separate agenda for spouses that includes much touring, boating and shopping -- is being held at the spectacular Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort, with great golfing opportunities and other luxury amenities for the bargain government rate of only $260 a night.

Don't worry: There are half-day meeting sessions on the schedule, allowing plenty of time for all to relax and enjoy the beauty of the islands they are protecting.

By one estimate, the total bill to taxpayers for lodging, per diem and travel should easily top $1 million. (The National Guard budget shortfalls these days exceed $10 billion.)

Well, paradise can always use protection. Next year's meeting is in Jackson Hole, Wyo. In June.

I understand ya'll work hard -- but the optics of this are terrible. You could have chosen any number of places in the United States -- Las Vegas, for instance -- and avoided this kind of story. And you could've built some things into a trip like that, like a visit to the Air Force's state-of-the-art UAV facility at Nellis Air Force Base, or a field trip to Yucca Mountain to study the security issues for that nuclear waste site.

But noooooooo... you chose to schedule a boondoggle in the Virgin Islands, at taxpayer expense, while your troops are deployed. I don't want to suggest that senior officers and defense officials need to be ascetics. But this shows bad judgment.

By Phillip Carter |  June 27, 2008; 6:13 AM ET  | Category:  Civil-Military Relations
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Great post.

Wanna bet these senior "warriors" (most w/o combat patches) strutted around the Marriott Beach Resort in ACUs?

Guarding paradise, indeed.

Posted by: IRR Soldier ... | June 27, 2008 8:08 AM

I don't support this any more than either of you...but, and I know it's splitting hairs, the Virgin Islands is in the US.

Posted by: Panhandle Willy | June 27, 2008 8:51 AM

Disgusting, absolutely disgusting, doubt anybody will be held to account in the good ole boy network that the guard is.

Posted by: M | June 27, 2008 8:56 AM

IRR,

That is ridiculous. ACUs are not a beach uniform. They likely wore PTs.

Just for the heck of it, I checked out the Per Diem rates:

They were authorized (and probably used) $240 a night for lodging, $84 for meals and $21 for incidentals for a grand total of $340 per day. That buys a lot of Mai Tais.

Posted by: bg | June 27, 2008 5:31 PM

Mai tais in the Caribbean? It should be pina coladas or Cuba libres!

Posted by: Alexey Braguine | June 28, 2008 8:16 AM

Well, I'm not going to spend a lot of time defending the "optics" of this, but a lot of this story seems a little bogus -

"By one estimate, the total bill to taxpayers for lodging, per diem and travel should easily top $1 million."

"Hundreds of their top state and national leaders were also away from home this week..."

Mr. Kamen, I'd really appreciate a source on that estimate.

This is a TAG only event (I know because I wanted to go :)) There are 54 Adjutant Generals (TAGs) - each of the 50 states, plus Guam, DC, Puerto Rico, and yes, the US Virgin Islands. So I'm not quite sure where he got "hundreds". Oh, I'm sure a few came out from Washington, and there are often a few others floating around at these things. But I doubt there are "hundreds". The whole point of these things is to get away - that's true whether the motivation is professional or recreational.

As long as we're talking math - over a million? I have a hard time believing we can't throw a party for 54 very small delegations, plus assorted others, for under a million. Over a million means ten grand per state, plus over half a million more for incidentals. Maybe Caligula is running the show down there, but Kamen's "estimate" sets off my bs meter enough that I'd like to see the source, or at least get more detail on it.

Oh, about taxpayers footing the bill - I read Kamen's article, and the conference materials (they're online at http://www.agaus.org). Whose account is it coming out of? Because I'm pretty sure (I absolutely may be wrong) this isn't being handled as straight up official travel. Some states, maybe all states, may reimburse, but usually the various State Associations play a role here. That's why a National Guard officer is pushed on State Association membership the way a RA officer gets pushed on AUSA. Or it's self paid (they are mostly O8s, after all). Also, the brochure lists a "Corporate Night", which you wouldn't have if Uncle Sam was picking up the tab. That's not to say the taxpayer got off scott free, esp if any federal types came down, or there were any security expenses. But I doubt it's quite as bad as Kamen thinks.

Look, I get the value of a gadfly type covering boondoggle type stuff, esp at a paper like WaPo (which I think very highly of). I'm not sure he did a wonderful job here, though.

Oh, and as re the most important issue - IRR, at NGAUS 08 in Puerto Rico (definitely not tax payer funded), we wore Bs. Feel better?

Posted by: hotrod | June 28, 2008 9:47 AM

Should have read "NAGUS 07 in Puerto Rico"

Posted by: hotrod | June 28, 2008 9:51 AM

A slight mea culpa - after some digging, it's a slightly bigger group than I thought. Some NGB staff, up to a couple of others from each state, plus a scaled down version of the usual entourage.

I still think Kamen's column is a little over wrought. And I'm still not seeing where taxpayers are really getting hammered. It's that last point that I need to see for me to even consider getting cynical about this.

Posted by: hotrod | June 28, 2008 12:55 PM

Posted by: hotrod | June 29, 2008 3:26 PM

Well, the AGs must have been jealous of all of the conferences they see the CEOs go to, so they had to have one matching in opulence.

Guess they could have hosted the event in DC, and included a tour of Arlington and Walter Reed into the conference.

Posted by: Jimmy | June 30, 2008 11:04 AM

Could've been worse, I suppose, like going there in January...

Posted by: sam | June 30, 2008 2:04 PM

Well, good for you, Hotrod, in cleaning this up all on your own. Speaks highly of you, IMO. Guess Kamen wasn't all that overwrought, after all, eh? The taxpayers are getting hosed.

I'm at a loss as to how to characterize this. It's just a huge blunder and, although I'm certain it's not actionable, it fits very nicely into my definition of fraud, waste and abuse. What were they thinking? These people "lead" an organization the members of which have been used, misused and abused for several years now, while meanwhile performing above expectations. Great message for the troops. I wouldn't be surprised to see these NG generals push their way to the front of the chow line. Why anyone would want to belong to an organization led by people such as this is beyond me.

This also fits very nicely into the old canard about how the National Guard is just a bunch of unserious tin soldiers, commanded by unserious Colonel Blimp types. Great message for the American people.

Posted by: Publius | June 30, 2008 9:28 PM

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