With the boss heading out on a free junket with his wife to the Bavarian Alps, Scott Hinkle, legislative director for Democratic congressman Juan Vargas, took his own gratis spring-break trip to Boston.
Hinkle's two-day excursion, with a total value of $1153, wasn't quite as grand as the congressman's jaunt, which as previously reported set its German sponsors back $18,200, but it did have its moments, based on a disclosure document filed with the House ethics commission April 23.
Paid for by the security studies program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "via an ongoing program grant by the Frankel Foundation," the event from April 8 through 10 featured panel discussions about high-tech military and espionage matters, including "The Cyber Domain" and "Command of the Sea," along with a talk regarding "Europe & the Renaissance of Russian Power."
There was also a tour of MIT's Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts, described by its website as "a federally funded research and development center that applies advanced technology to problems of national security."
The lab works closely with the National Security Agency on space, computer hardware, and software research and development projects to bolster the nation’s eavesdropping capabilities. Founded during World War II as the Lincoln Project, the facility has played a key role in the nation’s military strategy ever since.
During fiscal year 2014, according to MIT's website, Lincoln received $739 million from the Department of Defense — 91.1 percent of its budget.
The Frankel Foundation, established by institute alumnus and Los Angeles resident Raymond Frankel, gave the school $100,000 for "specialized education to government," according to the foundation’s 2012 federal financial disclosure statement.
Other Frankel beneficiaries have included the Israel Project, the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, and the National Security Roundtable.
The school said it tried to manage its costs for the junket but was only partially successful.
"Costs for the seminar are higher this year in part because the MIT Faculty Club has been under construction for the last year and will not be open for business again until January 2016," according to a note accompanying Hinkle's filing.
"The Faculty Club is/was the first port of call for virtually every campus department/group running an event, so its closure has meant everyone on campus is struggling to get space elsewhere," continues the explanation.
"Our seminar usually uses the faculty club for at least one lunch and one dinner and the associated cost is much less than going out to a hotel or restaurant. This situation explains why we have had to use more hotels than in previous years to provide meeting facilities and food, which in turn, explains much of the increased costs for this year."
In addition, the document says, drinks for the House staffers on the trip were not on the house.
"The Wednesday night cocktail reception will be at the MIT Museum. There will be a cash bar. Soft drinks will be provided for free but all congressional & executive branch staff will be required to purchase their own alcoholic beverages. (We will provide drink tickets to MIT faculty/speakers/any non-government employees)."
First night food was also limited. "This reception IS dinner for the attendees. We are not providing dinner on top, so it includes heavy hors d'oeuvres to eat. If deemed insufficient, attendees will have to purchase their own food after the event."
The next evening, a full meal was served.
"We chose the Hyatt for the main dinner/speaker event due to the proximity to campus and availability. Like all hotels in the Boston/Cambridge area, the catering is not cheap."
Continued the note, "The cheapest buffet dinner is $79 per head so we are going with the least expensive of all the dinner options available, the plated chicken dinner, which is the cheapest item on the menu at $73.00 per guest. That includes an appetizer, dessert and coffee but no drinks. "
The memo added, "Assuming we serve the seminar participants only soft drinks, that will run approx. $10.00 per head ($5.00 per soft drink). Then, on top of that, there is a 15% service charge and 9% administrative fee, which will take the cost to approx. $110 per head. (It's hard to do a large group dinner in DC for much less)."
Hotel prices also proved to be a challenge.
"We've been running the seminar for 17 years and have always chosen hotels within walking distance of the MIT campus, since not only does it save time but it means we don't have to pay for buses to get people to and from events," according to the document.
"Unfortunately, because of the demand for hotel space near MIT, the hotels are able to command a much higher price. As a reference point, the Marriott is currently booking at $379.00 per night and the Kendall is now just over $500 per night. The rate we secured at the Kendal — $295.00 per night, includes breakfast. (Most group/catered hotel breakfasts cost $16- 20 per head)."