A hearing about nothing


sienfeldTuesday’s meeting of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations started to resemble an episode of “Seinfeld” after a while, as Congressmen became obsessed with parsing the difference between a “continental breakfast” and a “light snack.”

David Fisher, head of DoD’s Business Transformation Agency, offered a convoluted distinction between the two from the rules that govern defense travel, to illustrate the complexity of those regulations.

Committe chairman Vic Snyder, an Arkansas Democrat, came up with his own definition. “I think if you stay on your feet it’s light refreshments, if you sit down it’s a continental breakfast,” he declared.

“We’ll have to adjudicate that,” Fisher remarked dryly.

Fisher later commented on the need for flexibility in making defense travel policy, and said he didn’t want to be called before the committee “because (somebody) had a donut as a light refreshment and saved 37 cents.”

California Democrat Susan Davis, a few minutes later, told Fisher: “I’m still dumbfounded by your comment about the continental breakfast.” Committee members continued to reference the conversation throughout the hearing.

I tried to track down the statute Fisher was referring to online and came up empty, but I did come across this little gem from the GAO to illustrate how government can take a seemingly simple thing like coffee and a muffin and turn it into pages and pages of gobbledygook.

My favorite passage: “Traditionally, GSA has not viewed light refreshments as subsistence. Nevertheless, while the travel regulation reflects a fairly broad view of subsistence, many would agree that a mid-afternoon snack or light refreshment, replenishing waning energy levels, is nourishment. Similarly, some may find morning and evening snacks nourishing as well. Accordingly, we do not object to GSA’s determination that subsistence for travelers may include light refreshments.”

Translation: Eating food makes you less hungry. Thanks, GAO!


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