- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

How much of our hard-earned money has gone to subsidize the federal spring break-style trips and conferences over the last five years? Try $1,401,104,263. Bureaucracy boondoggle spending rose 70 percent in that period.

We wouldn’t know anything about this binge if Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, hadn’t asked. Last summer, the pork-busting chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security surveyed all federal departments and agencies and directed them to document their conference, meetings and travel expenses since 2000. At a Tuesday hearing, Mr. Coburn unveiled his findings.

You’ll be happy to know the government junkets your tax dollars have funded include:

• A Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) trip to the resort town of Los Cabos, Mexico, for a conference on American real estate and urban areas.

• Another HUD outing to Honolulu — for the Sacramento, Calif., Home Ownership Fair.

• A State Department expedition to Vienna, Austria, to partake in “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Train the Trainer” workshops.

• A Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) jaunt by 236 employees to an AIDS conference in Barcelona, Spain. Price tag: $3.6 million.

• A total of 59 HHS conferences around the world with delegations of more than 100 — including more than 1,000 attendees to sunny Orlando, Fla. Employed by HHS? You’re going to Disney World.

It would be one thing if all this worldwide travel were related to the actual agency/department goals and duties of federal employees packing their bags and riding off into the sunset. But in too many cases, there is little if any connection between the meetings and the mission.

Why are we paying for HUD employees to attend the New York State Governor’s Dr. Martin Luther King Symposium? Or a conference held by the radical, left-wing, open-borders advocacy group, the National Council of La Raza?

Did the Justice Department really need to dispatch workers to the “Women Are Sacred” conference in sunny Phoenix?

Was it necessary to send a whopping 200 HHS employees to a Netherlands “International Symposium on Night and Shiftwork”? Wouldn’t it have saved us time and money if the HHS researchers had gone to a nearby 7-Eleven or nursing home?

The spendthrift HHS has been among the worst transgressors — burning through more than $300 million on conferences between 2000-2005. Several of the department’s publicly subsidized trips to AIDS conferences have featured free condom distribution to participants, sex- and drug-themed sessions, and in one case, maps to area brothels.

Jet-setting bureaucrats do more than waste money on these working vacations. They undermine our nation’s best interests. The State Department has sent its employees to confabs convened by a soft-on-terrorism outfit, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (whose executive director blamed Israel in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks), as well as to a counterterrorism conference in Saudi Arabia that deliberately excluded Israel and instead welcomed the Islamist Muslim World League — considered by U.S. counterterrorism officials to be an al Qaeda financial supporter.

Blowhards in both parties in Washington have pledged to reduce spending and reform business as usual. Yet, Mr. Coburn’s attempt to limit conference spending by one agency — HUD — was anonymously stripped from an appropriations bill behind closed doors and unceremoniously killed.

Who did it? Let’s have some transparency. Step forward and tell us why.

You want reform? You want smaller government? There’s $1.4 billion and counting just waiting to be targeted.

Go ahead and make our day: Cut it out.

Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of “Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.”

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