GSA training expo won’t have that Vegas glitz, but it will have the Alamo

Al Kamen
Columnist May 14, 2012

Hurry! The White House, amid the uproar over the General Service Administration’s excessive spending at a fun gathering in 2010 in Las Vegas, has issued new guidelines to curb costs.

But don’t let that stop you from a lovely trip to the Alamo! Yes, GSA’s annual training and expo conference is starting Tuesday in historic San Antonio.

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

Unfortunately, this looks to be a significantly scaled-down affair, per instructions of acting GSA chief Dan Tangherlini. There was even talk of canceling altogether, we were told, but the late charges would have been enormous, more than $3 million. (GSA has already canceled 35 gatherings that were scheduled for the end of the year.)

About 6,000 people from various federal, state and local agencies and vendors are expected, about 1,000 fewer than at last year’s expo in San Diego. While 800 GSA folks had been scheduled to go, we were told, that was cut to 357 — compared with 940 staffers in San Diego.

Various receptions — including an ice cream social — and a band were canceled, and swag, normally paid for by vendors anyway, is history.


Henry Kissinger. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)

Instead, you’ll get sessions on “acquisition, green solutions and technology,” including one NoDoz special titled “Demystifying the contracting process.”

The schedule also warns of boxed lunches every day. And unlike the fine times in Vegas, there’s no magician, no mind reader, not even a lousy face painter.

While Vegas cost $823,000 for 300 staffers, this one will cost $600,000 for 357. Add another $400,000 in expenses — booths, Web site, printed materials — and the total cost to host 6,000 people for three days will come to about $1 million.

Even scaled back, the training sessions end at 3:45 p.m. — leaving plenty of time to tour the town and party on your own.

Temps will be in the mid- to upper-80s, so dress comfortably when you go on the lovely River Walk, and especially on your trip to the Alamo.

Another famous pat-down

Seems no one is immune from the tender mercies of the TSA pat-down. First, we learned that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was subjected to a handsy search. The latest high-profile search-ee: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

Yes, the former adviser to presidents, the one who helped negotiate the end to the Vietnam War, the one with a Nobel Peace Prize.

But not, apparently, in his pocket.

Kissinger was spotted Friday at LaGuardia Airport in New York, getting routed to the pat-down line while going through security. Freelance reporter Matthew Cole recognized him — something the TSA agents checking identification did not.

After asking Kissinger his name as he passed through the scanner, an agent sent him to be searched. Kissinger was in a wheelchair, Cole tells us, not because he couldn’t walk but because, Cole surmised, it was a long walk to the gate.

In the search area, Kissinger was subjected to what Cole called “the full Monty” of the usual groping. “He stood with his suit jacket off, and he was wearing suspenders. They gave him the full pat-down. None of the agents seemed to know who he was,” he says.

But the security sweep didn’t seem to put Kissinger in a foul mood. Once settled into his flight to Toronto, Kissinger asked an aide traveling with him to find out what was being served for breakfast.

Informed that it would be ham and eggs, Kissinger asked his associate if he could locate an alternative meal. “But do they have any schnitzel?” he inquired.

That seemed to be less a genuine request and more of an inside joke, Cole said, since the aide and Kissinger both laughed.

No audience for escort

House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King generally keeps pretty classy company.

Which must be why he’s turning down an offer to meet with one of the prostitutes involved in the Secret Service scandal. How do we know that he’s not having such a meeting?

Because he put out a press release announcing that he refused a request by the attorney for Dania Londono Suarez. She’s the Colombian “escort” making media rounds of late, making salacious claims, including that her Secret Service client left files out where she could read them — and that he liked to flash his abs.

King indicated he’s not interested in fueling the seamier aspects of the story while his committee investigates the Secret Service agents’ dalliances with prostitutes in Cartegena, Colombia.

“While such a meeting — and the inevitable circus atmosphere surrounding it — would no doubt be of great interest to the media covering this story,” it’s not “necessary at this time,” he said in the release.

King added that his staff would communicate with Suarez’s lawyer.

Because the only thing more newsworthy than a meeting with a Colombian hooker is turning down a meeting with a Colombian hooker.

Coal is back!

The Obama campaign, after strong criticism from coal industry folks and Democrats in coal country, has quietly fixed its “all of the above” energy policy Web site.

The original version included seven pillars of the policy but made no mention of coal — which, after all, generates nearly half the nation’s energy supply.

Obama’s energy policies — including some environmental regulations — have made the industry most unhappy. And being excluded as a key part of the Obama energy policy just added to the feelings of neglect.

The Web site change Friday came but a few days after President Obama’s embarrassing showing last week in the Democratic primary in West Virginia, where a convicted felon and prison inmate got 41 percent of the vote.

The new Web site puts coal back into the mix — along with nuclear, oil, biofuels, wind, solar and natural gas. Even has a nice blurb about how much Obama likes coal.

But there are still seven components. So, let’s see, which one took the hit for coal?

Ah, yes, “fuel efficiency,” which used to be on the wheel at 3 o’clock.

Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt assured us Monday that “fuel efficiency” is still on the site, in the “oil section.” So clearly it remains a part of the administration’s energy plan.

But it’s dropped off the snappy wheel.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/ intheloop; Twitter: @InTheLoopWP

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