Maryland travel agent Jack Skloff knows firsthand how cavalier the federal government is with your money. For the past seven years, his company, Dimensions Travel, has made travel plans for several federal agencies. But no more.
Skloff has kissed $7 million a year in business goodbye because, "I didn't want to continue to help them to rape the taxpayer," he told us. "I want to work for people who say, 'Jack, save me money,' not 'Jack, spend my money.' "
No longer will he face the rush to book tickets to Las Vegas and Palm Springs for "meetings" just because it's the end of the federal fiscal year. (One federal agency called Skloff one September and exclaimed, "We've got $49,000 left in our travel budget. Set up some meetings. We'll figure out what they're about later.")
Our associate Jim Lynch has examined the ledgers of several federal agency travel budgets for last year. The amount spent on travel in September, the end of the fiscal year, is almost double that spent in August, and most other months, too.
Not only is the government wasteful. Skloff has seen it be downright stupid when it comes to venturing outside Washington. One federal travel coordinator called Dimensions asking for help to find the town of Vicinity. Her office told her to book travel to St. Louis and Vicinity, but she couldn't find it on the map. Another federal employee asked for help finding the town of Maconga. As it turned out, the destination was Macon, Ga.
Skloff said he doesn't mind going above and beyond the call of duty for his clients. But seven years of watching the government throw away taxpayers money went beyond common sense. Skloff did not bid to continue his contract work with the government last spring. But he still had some leftover contracts to fulfill with a few agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
In late September, NRC Chairman Kenneth Carr went to Europe for an international meeting on nuclear energy. An assistant who went along, Stephen Burns, planned to stay in Europe after the meeting for a vacation, so he wouldn't be coming home with the rest of the team, according to a travel document Carr filed in August.
But when it became clear that Burns would have to spend about $400 of his own money to change his return ticket, Carr signed a new memo saying that Burns would return on the same day as the others, flying business class as the others were. It wasn't true, but it bought Burns a ticket with enough face value that it could be exchanged to cover his extra vacation travel.
Carr says he wrote the second memo to give comparative costs for Burns' travel plans. Burns says the trip was "fully above board." Carr and Burns both noted that the travel is being reviewed by the NRC's legal office.
In the massive federal budget, $400 is barely loose change, but for Skloff it was one more straw on a back that was already broken. "I've been called a fool for giving up $7 million in business," he said. "Maybe I am a fool, but at least I'm an honest fool."