ABC Highlights Government Waste; Targets Lavish Social Security Retreats

ABC's Brian Ross on Wednesday investigated a subject that has been skipped by CBS and NBC's morning shows, the more than $1 million spent by the Social Security Administration for its employees to attend lavish retreats, complete with a motivational dance company performing for the government bureaucrats. Host Chris Cuomo asserted that Social Security may be "on the brink of financial ruin. But, you would never know it from a recent luxurious retreat paid for by your tax dollars."

Good Morning America's Ross, who has spend much of 2009 delving into whether or not Wall Street executives should fly on private jets or go on lavish retreats, provided some consistency by looking into a story that has, so far, been ignored by CBS's Early Show and NBC's Today. He explained that Social Security is "expected to be insolvent in less than 30 years, unless taxes are raised substantially. But, there was no sense of financial crisis when almost 700 Social Security executives gathered here last week at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix."

That apparently also included a "performance by a motivational dance company with the executives invited to join in." Considering how much time the major networks have devoted to questioning retreats for Wall Street executives, Ross should be commended for filing a report on this waste of taxpayer money by Barack Obama's Social Security Administration. (However, Ross never actually managed to use Obama's name in the story.)

The investigative correspondant closed the piece by explaining that the vacations have cost over $1 million in the last year. He sarcastically observed, "The administration says such personal meetings are essential, as they learn to dance away the stress of their jobs."

A transcript of the July 15 segment, which aired at 7:16am, follows:

CHRIS CUOMO: We now have an investigation for you into your Social Security Agency. And we're told it is on the brink of financial ruin. But, you would never know it from a recent luxurious retreat paid for by your tax dollars. ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross joins us with the story. Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN ROSS: Good morning, Chris. Well, huge, government bailouts didn't stop the big banks and Wall Street firms from sending their executives to fancy, four star resorts. And they haven't stopped a broke government agency from doing the same. In this case, it is the Social Security Administration, expected to be insolvent in less than 30 years, unless taxes are raised substantially. But, there was no sense of financial crisis when almost 700 Social Security executives gathered here last week at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Not too bad, huh? Beautiful.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Not too bad.

ROSS: Called the jewel of the desert, the four-star hotel describes itself as a restful oasis of 39 acres. With lush gardens, a championship golf course, and many swimming pools.

PETER SPENCER (Regional Commissioner, Soc. Sec Admin): There were about 675 attendees. The average cost was about $1,000 a person. So, it was around $700,000 cost.

ROSS: The Social Security Administration said it was essential for its executives to attend, so they could learn how to reduce stress, to better deal with Social Security recipients. And this was part of it. Performance by a motivational dance company with the executives invited to join in. Caught on type but our Phoenix affiliate, ABC 15, before they were kicked out. Officials said the session was justified because of a growing number of death threats being made against its managers.

SPENCER: There is a tremendous amount of stress involved in the job that we do. We receive threats against our employees. Either threats against the individual employees, threats against the entire office.

ROSS: But some members or Congress were outraged to learn how the financially troubled Social Security Administration was spending its dwindling money.

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R-Texas): It's especially frustrating when you have people who are truly disabled, who will wait years just to get their case heard. And years more, just to get a little help.

ROSS: Some of the government managers brought along relatives who spent the day at the pool.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm just along for the ride.

ROSS: There were side trips at night to local casinos and a guest appearance from the top administrator, Michael Astrue, whose spokesman said he flew coach and arranged the lowest rates possible for the three-day event.

DAVID WILLIAMS (Citizens Against Government Waste): Actually, they didn't do it for as low cost as possible. Because, as low-cost as possible would be a video teleconference. They would not flying people in from all around the country.

ROSS: But, of course, dancing along to a video conference, not quite the same thing. The gathering at the Phoenix resort was a series of several regional meetings like that, at a cost of over $1 million in the last year. The administration says such personal meetings are essential, as they learn to dance away the stress of their jobs. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO: Wow. What a report, Brian. Of all times now, the scrutiny of how you use tax dollars.

ROBIN ROBERTS: That is true. That is true.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org