NOAA pulls ad for magician to motivate employees at leadership event

May 3, 2012

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday pulled a $5,000 solicitation for a magician to motivate employees at a leadership training event, weeks after a mind reader hired by the General Services Administration became an embarrassing symbol of a Las Vegas spending scandal.

The ad, for a speaker on “The Magic of Change,” was pulled a day after agency officials posted it on a federal contracting Web site.

The agency sought a speaker for a one-day session for 45 employees to create a “unique model of translating magic and principals of the psychology of magic, magic tool, techniques and experiences into a method of teaching leadership,” according to a posting that went up Wednesday on FedBizOpps.gov.

The NOAA pulled the ad after news media reports suggested a magician would be in poor taste.

“NOAA has removed a solicitation for a speaker at a leadership training for career staff posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website,” Scott Smullen, the agency’s deputy communications chief, said in a statement. “No speakers have been hired or confirmed for this training session.”

He said the “process surrounding the solicitation” has been referred to top NOAA officials and the general counsel’s office for review.

It was unclear how long the solicitation had been in the agency’s computer system before it was posted.

The ad was first reported by Government Executive.

The GSA paid $3,200 for a similar act at its 2010 Western Regions conference, where a self-described mentalist and “motivational speaker with a “WOW’ factor” named Bob Garner entertained 300 employees poolside at a luxury hotel.

It was one of many abuses cited by the GSA inspector general in a report that forced out the agency chief and more than a dozen managers. The four-day Las Vegas event cost taxpayers $823,000.

Several employees who saw Garner speak said his act was pure entertainment and contained little content of motivational value.

The NOAA’s three-day conference, scheduled for June at the agency’s headquarters in Silver Spring, is part of a year of training for up-and-coming mid-level managers, officials said.

The agency sought to spend up to $5,000 for a speaker to use “magic tricks, brain teasers, word games, humor and teambuilding exercise” to work with future leaders.

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