Stefan Selig was a vice chairman at Bank of America before becoming Commerce Department undersecretary in the Obama administration. Do you really expect a man like that to stay in a freakin Red Roof Inn??
Outrageous! As a newly released investigative report from the Commerce Department’s Inspector General’s office explains in great detail, Selig spent his tenure as a government official living a lavish life befitting his previous job title much more than his government job title. On the taxpayer’s dime! (The report identifies him only as “a high-ranking Political Appointee,” but the Washington Post reports that Selig is the report’s subject.) The report finds, in short, that Selig was routinely reimbursed far more money than he should have been for “stays at luxury hotels around the world that were chosen primarily on the basis of Political Appointee’s personal preference, not mission necessity.” He also liked to ride in style—“the evidence shows that the government paid for Political Appointee and his staff to ride in an SUV provided by a luxury hotel during a two-day trip to Boston, Massachusetts, at a cost of nearly $1,800.”
The report pinned much of the technical rule-breaking on Selig’s staff, who arranged his travel and got him his reimbursements. But why did his staff feel the need to consistently book this obscure government official in the most luxurious hotels in town? Well:
One member of Political Appointee’s staff familiar with travel preparation for Political Appointee’s trips told the OIG that Political Appointee “clearly likes nice hotels[;] [w]e all know that.” This staff member also recalled Political Appointee making jokes with Assistant 1 about having to stay in “crappy hotels.” Assistant 1, who had primary responsibility for making hotel arrangements for Political Appointee’s trips, told the OIG that he understood Political Appointee had a preference for “nice” hotels, and recalled instances of Political Appointee being unhappy when he could not stay in luxury accommodations during official travel. As an example, Assistant 1 told the OIG about Political Appointee’s negative reaction to his hotel stay on one particular trip to Atlanta, Georgia, early in Political Appointee’s tenure with the Department, saying “he did not like” the accommodations selected for this trip and “was not pleased especially” with the service there. Political Appointee himself called this hotel stay in Atlanta “the single worst lodging experience” he had while with the Department, said the hotel was “lousy,” and acknowledged that he conveyed his dissatisfaction about the hotel to “anybody who would listen,” including his staff, in what were probably “hyperbolic and colorful” terms.
While we will stipulate that being forced to travel to the state of Georgia could indeed cause anyone to feel they had experienced the worst trip of their lives, it does seem that Selig instilled in his staff an understanding of the boss’s luxurious preferences.
His staff also made clear to hotels that Selig’s expectations were high. Here is a real email that one of his assistants sent to a hotel after Selig stayed there—the assistant told the Office of the Inspector General that he “‘did not want to send that email,’ but had been ‘told to send [it].’”
We are very happy to be staying with you this week. The rooms are fantastic and [we] truly appreciate the warm welcome you gave the [Political Appointee’s official title] and me. We are big [Luxury Hotel A] fans, as you know. We [h]ad a drink on the roof before dinner. The setting is spectacular. Unfortunately, when I ordered my second drink, they refilled my old glass with a shot of bourbon and my old orange peel and my old ice, which is really disappointing. Just thought you should know, as I am sure you are working out the kinks opening the new hotel.
Really disappointing. Will the indignities visited upon this Commerce Department functionary in the course of his official travels never end?
In addition to Selig’s travel particularities, he had high standards in office decor. When he was first showed into his new office space, he was not pleased. “According to Political Appointee, he contacted a senior member of the Department soon after seeing his office and told this official that the space was ‘unacceptable,’ that it was ‘a[n] [expletive] dump,’ and said ‘[y]ou’ve got to fix it.’”
He had an official budget of $5,000 to upgrade his office. How much did the government end up spending to upgrade his office? $50,000. How did he manage to spend $50,000 on a bland government office? Here’s one contributing factor:
Political Appointee consulted with an interior maintenance specialist for Luxury Hotel A, a luxury hotel chain, before deciding on what carpet he wanted. But Department officials did not just install Political Appointee’s chosen style of carpeting in his immediate office; they also installed this carpeting throughout the entire office suite for what the evidence indicates was an additional cost of around $10,000.
Nobody said that public service would be easy but that’s what patriotism is all about.