The Washington Post

Bye-bye, boondoggles?


Congress had a wonderful, bipartisan time at a hearing of the House oversight committee Thursday bashing the Internal Revenue Service over spending about $49 million on conferences from 2010 to 2012 — looking especially at that “Star Trek” parody video at a $4 million conference in 2010 in Anaheim, Calif.

And who can forget the mother of all conferences, the General Services Administration’s $820,000, four-day, training junket at a luxury hotel in Las Vegas in October 2010, featuring entertainment by a $3,200 mind reader, after-hours parties in 2,400-square-foot loft suites and a $7,000 sushi reception. Six planning trips cost about $130,000.

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

The ensuing uproar cost GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and other top officials their jobs last year. Congress was outraged, the administration chagrined, and the media in hog heaven. Such great theater.

Alas, we may have seen the last of the glory days.

Loop Fans have doubtless found, back on Pages 238 and 239 of their copies of the 240-page Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2013, a provision that requires all agencies, boards, commissions and so on “submit annual reports to their inspector general (or senior ethics officer)” for the “costs and contracting procedures related to each conference” costing more than $100,000. (The Office of Management and Budget’s new guidelines also require deputy agency heads to approve such gatherings.)

With the announcement Wednesday that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, center, would replace Tom Donilon as national security adviser, and that Samantha Power, left, would replace Rice as ambassador, women have again achieved parity on Obama’s team of top national security advisers (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

It gets worse. The reports also must specify the conference’s purpose; say how many (but not who?) attended; and give detailed costs on food and drink, audiovisual services, and travel to and from, as well as procedures for awarding contracts, selecting hotels and so on.

Worse yet, 15 days after any conference costing more than $20,000, agency heads must notify the IGs or ethics officials of the date, location and number of employees attending.

All this may well have a decidedly chilling effect on such lavish and/or meaningless conferences.

Next thing you know, there’ll be similar legislation affecting congressional travel — including the cost of military jets and the number of hours spent by military and embassy employees on the care, feeding and transporting of members, spouses and staff members.

Well, maybe not.

Not exactly a leak

The Justice Department on Thursday declassified one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington.

Our colleague Ann Marimow reports that in a two-sentence notice filed in U.S. District Court, federal prosecutors stripped the classified label off the name of the national news organization (Gasp! It was Fox News!) and the reporter (OMG, James Rosen!) at the center of a leak investigation into former State Department arms expert Stephen Jin-Woo Kim.

The declassification notice came just days after Kim’s attorney had criticized government lawyers for labeling too many documents in the case as classified, including communications between Kim and his child.

Keeping those names hush-hush might have seemed superfluous, since news reports (including The Post’s) have widely identified both. Lawyer Abbe Lowell told the court Tuesday that Kim and his attorneys were “the only four people in the universe” prohibited from naming Rosen and Fox.

Kim is fighting charges that he leaked classified information about North Korea to Rosen, Fox’s chief Washington correspondent. The case attracted attention after it was revealed last month that the Justice Department had aggressively investigated Rosen’s news-gathering activities and labeled him as a possible co-conspirator in the case.

The department has said it never intended to prosecute Rosen. But the characterization in a search-warrant affidavit prompted an uproar from First Amendment watchdogs and government-transparency advocates already upset by the department’s decision to secretly seize phone records of Associated Press journalists in a separate leak probe.

And even though Fox and Rosen’s names are no longer a secret, there’s still plenty more information that’s being kept under wraps: Kim’s attorneys and federal prosecutors are fighting over thousands of pages of classified documents, and the case is unlikely to go to trial before early 2014.

Balancing act

What a difference a day — and one nominee — makes. President Obama has come up with a fairly gender-balanced national security team. (Perhaps they can field that coed softball team down on the Mall now?)

With the announcement Wednesday that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice would replace Tom Donilon as national security adviser, and that Samantha Power would replace Rice as ambassador, women have again achieved parity on Obama’s team of top national security advisers, something that seemed a fading prospect as many of Obama’s early picks were men and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left the job in February.

We count the elite group as Rice, Power, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and CIA Director John Brennan — though others could define the group more broadly. Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, while not a Cabinet member, is at the table, and Attorney General Eric Holder also provides counsel.

Overall, the men still outrank the women, so actual parity remains elusive for now.

With Emily Heil

The blog:
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says ...
This was supposed to be the strongest Republican presidential field in memory, but cracks are showing. At Saturday night's debate, Marco Rubio withered in the face of unyielding attacks from Chris Christie, drawing attention to the biggest question about his candidacy: Is he ready to be president? How much the debate will affect Rubio's standing Tuesday is anybody's guess. But even if he does well, the question about his readiness to serve as president and to go up against Clinton, if she is the Democratic nominee, will linger.
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Play Video
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.