Don’t feel bad if you had never heard of the General Services Administration (GSA) before the recent scandal over its lavish Las Vegas junket and other egregious misuses of taxpayer funds. This obscure, ridiculously out-of-date federal bureaucracy exists only to do a bunch of things that the government has no business doing.
According to Martha Johnson, the now-former GSA administrator who resigned in disgrace, the GSA is a combination of Office Depot, Home Depot, an airline and a real estate agency. Considering that office supplies, building supplies, airlines and real estate agencies exist in abundance in the private sector, why not seize on this scandal as an opportunity to shut down this ridiculous agency?
Remember back in 2009, when President Obama infuriated the Las Vegas tourism industry when he tried to tell bailed-out banks to cancel conferences in Las Vegas? Obama said: “You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”
Apparently the GSA ignored the president’s sage advice and spent $823,000 on a lavish Las Vegas getaway for 300 federal employees, featuring entertainment from clowns and mind-readers and a special award for the employee who most creatively spent his taxpayer-funded work hours making a rap video bragging about his lavish bureaucrat lifestyle. The conference was just the tip of the iceberg for an agency where waste and theft appear to be rampant. To give another example, a recent inspector general report found that more than 115 iPods were missing from a single GSA office.
A few of the head GSA bureaucrats have lost their jobs over the scandal, but why are taxpayers picking up the tab for the other 12,729 employees of this unnecessary federal agency, with its F Street monument-to-bureaucracy in the midst of a planned $250 million renovation?
This isn’t the first GSA scandal or resignation of a GSA administrator. Almost exactly four years ago, President Bush requested the resignation of GSA head Lurita Alexis Doan, ending what The Washington Post described as “a tumultuous tenure in which [Doan] was accused of trying to award work to a friend and misusing her authority for political ends.”
So perhaps the problem is the whole idea of a government agency brokering tens of billions of dollars in federal contracts every year.
Ask yourself these questions:
Do federal bureaucrats sell office supplies more efficiently than Staples, Office Depot and the other private sector competitors in that low-margin, highly competitive business?
Are federal bureaucrats better at buying and selling real estate than the private sector pros are? At facilities management?
Are federal bureaucrats more adept at selling construction supplies than Home Depot and its competitors? Better at running an airline?
The answer to all of these questions is a clear and resounding no.
There is simply no compelling rationale for government providing goods and services widely available in the private market. Attempts to do so insulate the bureaucratized purchasing from competitive pressures and result in the misallocation of resources and even outright scandals and abuses.
Cleaning house at the GSA isn’t enough. Congress needs to shut the place down and bring private sector discipline and competition to federal purchasing.
Phil Kerpen is the author of “Democracy Denied: How Obama is Ignoring You and Bypassing Congress to Radically Transform America – and How to Stop Him.”