The Federal Aviation Administration has been accused by a whistleblower of spending $5 million on a Christmas party this month for 3600 managers and passing it off as a training conference to discuss a new contract with air controllers.
ABC's Brian Ross reported on Tuesday that a tip received online had alerted the network to the "wasteful spending" on this "ridiculous junket" and claimed that the new contract -- which is already in effect -- could more cheaply have been explained by videoconferencing.
When an ABC team showed up at the welcoming party for the conference attendees, Hank Krakowski, COO of the FAA Air Traffic Organization, told Brian Ross, "This is worth it because we have to get the front-line managers onboard with what we're trying to do."
But at the same time, hidden ABC cameras were catching shots of FAA officials in the room drinking and dancing and whooping it up. "I went to one of these three years ago and almost got arrested," one partier laughed. "We were dancing on tables, being rude -- well, not rude, just drunk." FAA officials finally called hotel security to order the ABC crew out of the party area.
"This is a big waste of money at the wrong time and it's a bad signal to the taxpayers," Tom Schatz of the conservative watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste told ABC.
The FAA has since issued a statement defending the conference and insisting, according to the Associated Press, that "the only social function attached to the training was a welcome reception with a cash bar and food provided by the hotel. ... No taxpayer dollars were used for it."
The FAA did apologize, however, for the rowdiness captured on camera by ABC. "We expect a level of professionalism from our employees at all times, including after work hours," the FAA spokesperson noted. "Reports of unruly public behavior are disappointing for the entire FAA."
This video is from ABC's World News, broadcast Dec. 22, 2009.