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NOAA cancels solicitation for ‘magic’ motivational speaker

Online notice came one month after GSA spending scandal.

This story has been updated to reflect that NOAA withdrew the solicitation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posted -- and then withdrew -- a request for a motivational speaker on “the magic of change” for a training conference with another Commerce Department division planned for June 12-14 at a federal building in suburban Maryland.

A May 1 request for quotation on the Federal Business Opportunities website that agencies use to solicit bids from private vendors asked for a contractor who has “created a unique model of translating magic and principles of the psychology of magic, magic tools, techniques and experiences into a method of teaching leadership.”

The eventual awardee’s appearance for a one-day session for 45 federal employees was to include “a self-designed set of experiential exercises as part of student participation.”

Late in the day on Thursday, NOAA issued a statement saying it had “removed a solicitation for a speaker at a leadership training for career staff posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, and has referred the solicitation to the general counsel and NOAA’s Chief of Resource and Operations Management to review the statement of work and the process surrounding the solicitation. No speakers have been hired or confirmed for this training session.”

Sen. Scott Brown, R- Mass., had reacted to reports of the solicitation with a release saying, "It’s outrageous that NOAA is advertising to hire a magician for an upcoming government conference. This is taxpayer abuse, pure and simple, and I urge Commerce Secretary John Bryson to immediately cancel these frivolous plans.”

The conference, a quarterly training exercise put on by NOAA and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, is part of Commerce’s Leadership Effectiveness and Advancement Program. It is designed, the notice read, “to examine, in a collegial setting, the theory, techniques and tools of effective management and leadership, especially as they pertain to the organization’s functional processes (budgets, finance and human resources), to review and analyze common cross-cutting problems/issues . . . and to improve methods of applying leadership that can make the work environment more productive.”

Vendors had until May 15 to submit quotes for the fixed-price contract.

The offer came a month after news broke about the General Services Administration’s extravagant 2010 training conference in Las Vegas. GSA’s event, which included a clown and a mind reader, prompted Congress to consider legislation to cap agency spending on conferences and travel, a move President Obama already pursued in an executive order in November 2011.

Asked by Government Executive whether the conference would create problematic appearances, Patricia McBride-Finneran, the NOAA administrative officer who is the point of contact for the solicitation, said this is not related to the GSA affair. “I’m sure it will be talked about, and this is a new topic,” she said. “But this is a program in which we train potential managers -- just a one-day conference, where we teach about different things that pertain to government, such as working with Congress.”

The winner, the notice said, will be a certified speaking professional, and will “understand and be experienced at presenting the work of [Harvard University educational theorist] Dr. Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences and how this relates to creativity and obtaining team solutions.”

The presentations must take a “multidisciplinary approach using experiential exercises, physical energizers, magic tricks, puzzles, brain teasers, word games, humor and team-building exercises designed to demonstrate how to stimulate creativity, encourage active participation, and practice needed skills and competencies,” the request for quotations stated.

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