Case Study: Governments That Waste Money And The Consulting Firms That Help Them Do It, As D.C. Hands Out $90,000 For….WHAT????

Great. Thanks a lot, D.C. government.

Great. Thanks a lot, D.C. government.

There is so much to be outraged about regarding the Washington, D.C. “Parent and Family Engagement Summit”  hosted by the city’ s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (D.C. likes to think of itself as a state; it’s cute) in September, it’s hard to know where to start. I  also find it hard to type when I’m trying to stop my head from exploding.

1. Let’s begin with the fact that the city paid nearly $90,000 to a Chicago consulting firm to help it hold the conference, which was only one day, which is to say, about 6 hours, long. This is what having the federal government in your back yard will do to a municipal government’s sense of responsible stewardship. For perspective, think about this: the payment to Chicago-based SPC Consulting exceeds by $12,000 what the average D.C. Public Schools teacher earns in a year for actually doing something. I don’t know what a “parent and family engagement summit” is, but I have a pretty good idea what this one was: an Office of the State Superintendent of Education show-and-tell, so parents could learn what the city is allegedly doing about educating its kids. And I must say, the parents learned, if they were paying attention, what it’s doing, which is wasting their money. The District has one of the most expensive public school systems in the nation, and one of the worst. Parents wondering how this could be so were instantly informed by the “summit’s” cost. If the OSSE will shell out $89,995 —that missing five bucks was apparently so the bureaucrats could boast that the event cost “less than $90,000 dollars”—for this fluff, one can only imagine how they burn through taxpayer funds the rest of the year and still leave so many D.C. kids unable to read, reason, or resist the temptation to have their own kids before they graduate from high school…if they graduate, that is.

2. Why does a school system need a consulting firm to help it explain what it does all year? It needs it only if it is trying to cover up incompetence with flash and distractions. Well, and to waste money, of course.

3. What did SPC Consulting do for this princely sum? This: a half-hour keynote speech by the famous Sunny Chico, who runs the firm, three 45-minute parent workshops (there were others, but they were handled by volunteers) and hundreds of copies of parenting books costing about $30 each, handed out as freebies to the parents, many of whom can probably read no better than their kids, and are about as likely to crack that book, a parenting book by Sunny called “You, Your Child’s First Teacher,” as they are to flap their arms and fly to Baltimore.

4. The consulting firm got the contract, naturally, in a no-bid process. Chief of Staff Jose Alvarez knew the firm and its founder from a previous job in Chicago. Translation: naked cronyism. I wonder what the quid will be to this quo? Queried by the Washington Post, Alvarez explained that the agency’s turnover left it  scrambling to put together the September conference, the second annual D.C. Parent and Family Engagement Summit, so his  agency had no time to conduct a competitive bidding process.  “It wouldn’t happen under normal circumstances, and it’s not going to happen again. I can guarantee you it could have been absolutely better, and we’re going to do it better.” The agency has already started planning for next year’s parent summit, he says.  Great. What trust should be placed in the architects of this year’s fiasco? Here’s a tip from Responsible Management 101: if the planning for an “annual” conference that has only been held once is so far behind schedule that the only way to get it done on time is to pay $90,000 to an out-of-town consulting firm, you skip the conference and save the money.

5. Most of that money, by the way, went to Sunny herself for her half-hour “keynote” speech. You know, I speak for a living. Ridiculous speaking fees can sometimes be sort of justified if the speaker attracts lots of publicity to the event and pulls in audience, especially if they are paying. Who the hell is Sunny Chico? Without the star attraction value, there is no 30 minute speech ever given in the history of mankind that is worth $70, 000, or anything close to it. What pearls of wisdom could Sunny Chico possibly drop from her lips that would be worth more than $2000 a minute to D.C. parents? What idiot would ever believe that such a price tag would ever be a fair or reasonable one?

6. Oh, right: Mr. Alvarez, probably because this crony deal is going to get his kid into college or pay off a loan or something. As for Ms. Chico, I will say this: no ethical consultant or  speaker would dare to charge $70,000 for a half hour keynote speech. The price is per se unconscionable.

7. Get this: SPC Marketing Director Judy Razo defended the firm’s indefensible fees, calling them “below normal industry rates.” This is the “Everybody does it” rationalization. If  $70,000 for a half-hour speech is below industry rates, then it is an unethical industry. What industry is this, any way? The phony-baloney bureaucratic make-work industry? The  prey on incompetent school districts industry? “We’re trying to spread the message, and we understand that school districts have limited budgets,” Razo told the Post, explaining that Chico was not available for an interview. (She was probably in a bathtub filled with $70,000, laughing herself sick.) “We want to impart wisdom, not just make a sale.” Right, Judy, this makes perfect sense. Your company is supposed to advise school districts and educators, and your wisdom is illustrated by asking D.C.’s educators to pay a fee for your services that is guaranteed to make them look like gullible, or corrupt, fools. You understand that school districts have limited budgets, but you don’t care: they are still sheep to fleece.

Don’t insult our intelligence by saying otherwise.

8. The D.C. agency that wasted this money also defended the expenditure. Defended it!  Athena Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the D.C. agency, stood by the payment to SPC, saying, apparently with a straight face, “SPC delivered a quality program reflecting national best practices.” The easy response to this is, “So what? It doesn’t matter if it was a ‘quality program,’ NO quality program of a day’s length, that is essentially a PR exercise, is worth that kind of money anywhere, paid by anyone, and it certainly isn’t a responsible expenditure by a financially strapped city government with taxpayers footing the bill.” If Athena’s bosses really think this is a reasonable use of funds, they should be fired. If they don’t think it was a reasonable use of funds, they also should be fired: why are they spending this kind of money when they know it’s irresponsible, indeed, insane?

9. Even in the Post, the local paper, this story was buried in the Metro Section, not placed on the front page. There are probably horror stories like this regularly, all over the country, and in the Federal government of course. They should be headlined and hammered far and wide so people have no illusions, and they have many, about the competence of governments and the money—our money—they waste, usually with  no shame, regrets or accountability at all.

10. And I’ll leave #10 up to you. I have to go off and let my head explode now.


Facts: Washington Post


7 thoughts on “Case Study: Governments That Waste Money And The Consulting Firms That Help Them Do It, As D.C. Hands Out $90,000 For….WHAT????

    • Tex…I see the district is getting new athletic field houses…nice. Of course, football is the money maker in Texas districts and maybe better field houses will attract more students to the football program…meaning more money to offset those costs associated with all the missing, stolen, dropped and in need of repair laptops and iPads that will be given to all high school students. I bet half the high school teachers don’t even want to let the students take their textbooks out of the classroom because they know they will never see the textbooks again…but laptops and IPads…that’s gonna work out great.

      • Yeah. I’m pretty annoyed that I didn’t make it to vote. Mostly annoyed at myself. Of course, I’m a fan of Election Day being a national mandatory holiday. Of course, after seeing the results, it made no difference. Everything I wanted passed in Texas passed, the things I wasn’t familiar with happened to pass also, and my vote in regards to the Fort Worth waste bond election wouldn’t have mattered anyway considering the margin of passage.

        Schools don’t need more money or more technology. They actually have enough. What schools need are active and engaged parents that acculturate their children to pursue knowledge, not games and triviality, as well as ensuring their children’s teachers are rigorous and non-ideological.

        HA! what am I saying? Just throw more money at the problem.

      • Sounds like you need a Family and Parent Engagement Summit. Looks like Sunny Chico is running a special. Although, I have always thought it was a much better idea when a teacher or administrator of a school just called the parents of a student who was having trouble and said…”Let’s talk”. It’s part of their job, you know…and costs the taxpayers no extra money because it’s already part of their contract.

  1. Best practices by…Congressional Junket Handbook?….How to Barely-legally Bribe Government Officials Handbook?…or the Things Taxpayers Can’t Find Out Or They Will Eliminate Public Education Compendium?

    Government is always the least efficient way to do anything. Eventually, a government programs’ effectiveness becomes inversely proportional to its cost. I think education is well into the second part. It is time to start over.

  2. My wife said what you describe is near identical to one she went to in Corpus Christi. It was billed as a train the trainer so she could share all the wonderful things she learned with our local PTA on how to better engage students and parents in the scholastic process. It was more a seminar on basic parenting for idiots and/or 15 year old moms. In our area, a good argument could be made that we have the perfect target audience. She still said it was unprofessionally presented, a waste of time and money, and void of any desire by our home PTA to gain from her new “knowledge.”

  3. Who’s surprised by this? The Obama Administration sole-sourced $660 million to a CANADIAN firm for the Obamacare website — as I’ve said before, Canada being a real “hot bed of cyber technology” — so leadership and/or corruption comes from the top down. Trickle-down unethical behavior is a given. Don’t blame the District — it’s been doing this kind of crap since Marion Barry — who lowered the unemployment percentage by creating thousands of fake DC government jobs paid by District taxpayers so his “numbers” would look good. The District has never recovered, and has clearly learned its lesson well:. “We’ll do want we want to do, and F-you.” Here’s a very good reason for “taxation without representation, in DC at least.

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