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Reprinted from this week’s Loose Lips column
Two weeks ago, senior staff at the Office of the Chief Technology Officer got some fresh mountain air at taxpayer expense: 46 agency employees piled into vans and drove the approximately 80 miles to the Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park for a “leadership summit” hosted by agency head Vivek Kundra.
The mid-week junket, which included one night’s lodging in the resort’s quaint cabins, cost taxpayers about $23,000.
Now this isn’t quite as galling as the cohort of executives from AIG who spent some $440,000 at the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., mere days after the feds granted them an $85 billion bailout. And LL doesn’t begrudge an organization—even a government agency—“team-building exercises” and a change of venue. But with a $130 million-and-rising citywide revenue gap, couldn’t the airport Ramada have sufficed? Or perhaps that swank new citywide conference center atop One Judiciary Square—you know, the building where most of OCTO’s staff is housed?
Nearly 50 bureaucrats leave town for a mountain resort to discuss policy—sounds like a retreat, right? Nope, says Kundra; it was a “summit” intended to “make sure we’re thinking strategically in terms of using technology in government operation and to make sure we are able to stay ahead of the curve,” says Kundra.
And it was important to get away from the workaday grind, he adds: “We’ve built a team that is extremely diverse and part of effecting change is being able to move away from its daily working environment…and a change in environment makes a huge difference in terms of affecting how people look at the problems and effect change.”
LL wonders how many buzzwords Kundra & Co. managed to toss around the Blue Ridge in 36 hours.
Kundra argues that in the grand scheme, the trip saved taxpayers money—not only did his troops mull money-saving ideas, but without the meeting, he says, he might have spent 10 times as much on consultants to draw up a strategic plan for his shop.
“What I’m trying to do is try and shift the power of thinking, of analysis into the hands of the government,” he says.
Still, perhaps OCTO should have taken a cue from LL’s employer, which is pumping up the local economy by renting out the lovely Josephine Butler Parks Center in Columbia Heights this week for a daylong seminar on pumping up our Web site traffic. No sylvan vistas for our fiscally challenged enterprise!
Kundra says the federally-owned Skyland Resort is hardly up to Elysian corporate standards. “Oh God,” he says, “it’s far from that. It’s a Motel 6. It’s as low-budget as possible.”