August 28 2014

Hear about the DOL Book Club? It Cost You $100,000

Charlotte Hays

Just before we head into the Labor Day weekend, we have word on a very special book club at the U.S. Department of Labor—the book club cost taxpayers $100,000.

The Washington Examiner quips:

They say "knowledge is power," but does it have to be so expensive?

I am dying to know how anybody can drop a hundred grand on a book club—do they sip champagne and peruse first editions only?—but unfortunately, that hasn’t been revealed.

Still, despite the lack of the reading list, an August 14 letter from Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is a humdinger. The DOL seems to be spending our money on frivolities.

Deeming posters in elevators the best way to communicate with employees, the DOL has spent a total of more than $600,000 for elevator posters since 2009. Apparently, there must be new posters each week.

The DOL apparently is addicted to public relations contests—not surprising given the emphasis on those informative posters. The DOL entered 83 public relations contests, sometimes paying as much as a $2,310 entry fee. When a DOL employee wins, it’s not entirely good news: the taxpayer is stuck with the bill for a trip to New York to claim the prize. Indeed, Rep. Issa cited a particular instance of the DOL paying for an official to go to the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil Awards dinner in New York (registration fee: $375 per person).

The event is described this way on the PRSA website:   

Ranked the “#1 Public Relations Industry Event in New York” by BizBash, the annual event honored organizations that successfully addressed contemporary public relations issues with exemplary professional skill, creativity and resourcefulness.

The employee who had allegedly been sent to the soiree subsequently called a staff meeting and “used profane language to criticize employees who allegedly contacted the media and threatened to retaliate against employees” who brought questionable spending at the agendy to light.

The DOL also, according to the Issa letter, hired the Washington Nationals mascot—that would be Screech—for an agency event. Issa was also critical of DOL’s spending an “inordinate amount of time and money” to produce an in-house publication named "Frances"--the name honors Frances Perkins, an early DOL secretary who was also the first female Cabinet member.

We don’t begrudge DOL employees a bit of career enhancement, and we want our employees to have pleasant working conditions.

But it does look like they are taking advantage of the taxpayer. Will they rectify this? Given the nature of government, I am not holding my breath.

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