Ethics on the links in Orlando

Al Kamen
Columnist July 21, 2011

Sign up now! The federal Office of Government Ethics is holding a conference for 820 federal ethics officials, mostly lawyers, Sept. 13 to 15 at the self-styled “legendary Orlando World Center Marriott,” a magnificent golf and spa resort.

“We encourage new and experienced ethics officials, regional ethics officials, Inspector General staff and others with ethics-related duties to attend the conference,” the office says on its Web site, announcing its “18th National Government Ethics Conference.” The registration fee is $675 per person.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Okay, we know what you’re thinking. Why should I go to some excessively tedious conference in Florida — during hurricane season, no less — and hang out with the same ethics officers I often see around Washington? And yes, it’ s true that 66 percent of the attendees are from this area.

But have you seen the video of the resort? The vacation mecca boasts “nearly 7,000 yards of championship golf,” a full-service spa and six — count ’em, six — “tropical” pools. (“Tropical” means they bring those drinks with the little paper umbrellas right to your lounge chair.)

If that’s not enough, note that the conference is from a Tuesday morning to Thursday evening. So you have to travel on Monday and fly back on Friday. But that means you might as well go for the week! Take your spouse and the kids — if they don’t have school. (If they do, leave them with someone.) You’ll have to pay for their expenses, but your room is paid for and so is your ticket.

Not convinced? Okay, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios are just a stone’s throw away. You can go to a Tampa Bay Rays game — they’re having a pretty good year and playing the Red Sox the weekend before the conference starts. You can even have a spectacular dinner at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa. Enjoy modern art? There’s the stunning new Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.

Sure, you might ask whether, given these difficult budgetary times, it would be ethical to spend all this money to fly hundreds of people to Florida. Of course it is, despite the perhaps problematic optics. It’s an ethics conference, for crying out loud.

The conference, held every 18 months, is a big part of the Office of Government Ethics’ training program, the OGE folks point out. The schedule of constant seminars and such is “so packed up with information.” And while you might think flying 820 people, including 540 from this area, down to Orlando is expensive, we’re assured that the cheap hotel rates down there in September, plus low registration fees and a low per diem, make it, after extensive cost comparisons, a good deal despite the airfare.

(We didn’t compare the costs of just running morning and afternoon buses from the agencies to, say, the National Harbor convention hotels, but apparently that option would ruin the bonding experience for America’s ethics mavens and reduce the benefits of cross-pollination of ideas and all that.)

Move quickly: Registration closes Friday.

The 24-7 chief executive

Seemed somewhat off-key when Republican presidential candidate Tim “Van Damme” Pawlenty, campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, weighed in on whether Rep. Michele Bachmann’s migraine headaches would affect her ability to be president.

He twice repeated the phrase “all of the job, all of the time” and then said: “If you’re going to be president of the United States, you’ve got to be able to do the job every day, all the time. There’s no real time off in that job.”

Really? No time off? What about those Obama and Clinton golf outings? Bush II’s biking and brush-clearing?

A lot of people would say Reagan did his job quite well, and he took plenty of time off to head to the ranch. Why, they didn’t even wake him up in 1981 after U.S. fighter jets had shot down two Libyan jets earlier that night.

Lincoln reportedly suffered from nasty migraines, and he was able to win a war.

A Down East downer

Loop Fans, sweltering here in this nasty heat wave, may recall last Friday’s item about an excellent gathering in early August in lovely Bar Harbor, Maine, of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal/Interior Budget Council.

About 20 headquarters employees were expected to go to the quarterly budget meeting, with most staying at the Bar Harbor Regency, right on the water and close to the entrance to Acadia National Park. (Temps that week most likely in the high 70s or low 80s. Evenings quite cool.)

Alas, by Friday afternoon, Paul Tsosie, chief of staff to Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk, cut more than half the Washington contingent plus 11 regional directors — at least 21 people.

Officials had “discussed both the expenses and substantive matters of this meeting,” he said in an e-mail, and “decided that in these times of” budget problems, “staff should tend to matters at their home duty station.”

Tsosie said Echo Hawk and seven others will go from headquarters along with some “presenters” at the gathering — who must have written approval to go. “There will be no substitutions.”

“I understand that you may have already made plans” to go, he wrote, “and I wanted to give you plenty of advanced notice to cancel such plans.”

Thanks a lot. “Plenty of notice?” Two weeks?

Follow In the Loop on Twitter: @AlKamenWP.

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