Las Vegas justifies its existence by being both a party destination and a place where serious conventions and business meetings can be conducted. Not everyone is willing to accept this negative capability of Vegas marketing. And, a business trip to Vegas risks being called a vacation only because it sits in the 702 area code. In a political season with government employees involved that seems predestined to happen.
Recently, a CBS news affiliate discovered this outrage:
“U.S. Census Bureau sent 140 administrators from Colorado and nine other Rocky Mountain and southwestern states to Las Vegas for several days to discuss ‘lessons learned’ from the 2010 census that could be applied in the next census in 2020. The trip cost an estimated $100,000 in airfare.”
A Republican congressman, Rep. Mike Coffman from Colorado, was found to express sufficient outrage: “It’s impossible to argue this without saying these folks took a vacation and they took it at taxpayer expense. I mean I think it’s the equivalent of theft.”
Theft? Is it that serious? Meanwhile buried down near the bottom of the story is the explanation offered by the thieves in the Census Bureau: “The post-census meeting took place in Las Vegas because it had the lowest airfares, hotel costs and meeting room charges in the region.” Thieving bargain shoppers!
Coffman’s retort is that there should be no meetings at all, anywhere, in the era of videoconferencing and e-mail. The location of Las Vegas to him is therefore a red herring to get headlines. Yet, do you think he would have complained about a Denver convention that cost more? Politicians are shameful.
Still, thinking that face time has no value in 2010 with the technological substitutes available is an opinion Coffman is entitled to hold; yet, I am curious if he has ever gone anyplace on a fact finding mission or traveled to a Republican retreat?
So, yes, the accusation of theft by Coffman is political demagoguery, but the idea behind the outrage is worth considering. In the era of new communication technologies, have many of the meetings and conventions that take place in Vegas become expensive dinosaurs? Has Skype replaced the Vegas meeting? Are we suffering a recession in our convention business or a paradigm shift? It is an honest question, but hardly one that this Census story and fake outrage does anything to examine.
Meanwhile, look at this video of an earlier Vegas census workers gathering. Does this partying down seem extravagant luxury that appalls you or rather, as it does to me, look exactly like a cheesy corporate team building exercise?