Get this: About 70 people, including 10 state legislators, gallivant in the early summer to a four-star resort near Pittsburgh, racking up a three-day bill of more than $130,000. The troop said their mission was a “business retreat” like the half dozen others they’ve taken since 2000 – to as far as California – which have totaled close to $900,000.
Just two weeks ago, after news reports about the retreats and pesky reporters asking for receipts of the meetings, the group sued three news organizations, claiming “trade secrets” would be revealed if the documents were made public.
What’s the name of the retreating group now retreating from accountability?
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
The state student-loan agency, which manages billions of dollars, seems to be squandering a notable portion of its assets on secret retreats that seem to be more about playing golf and getting massages than figuring out ways to better serve college students.
Did we forget to mention that seven of PHEAA’s top executives recently raked in bonuses of more than $100,000, adding to annual base salaries already in the hundreds of thousands?
Harrisburg’s Patriot-News sure didn’t. The paper has been reporting how the agency threw around its money for years and requested that PHEAA open its expense records to the public. PHEAA, being the ever-so-transparent organization that aims to serve students and taxpayers, did the “right” thing and sued a reporter from the Patriot-News, Associated Press and a Pittsburgh television station.
And by right thing we mean the absolute worst decision a state agency could make if it wants any chance of saving face in what’s obviously a malfeasance.
The agency said briefing the public about its trips would harm PHEAA’s “ability to achieve its mission of assisting Pennsylvania students to obtain low-cost higher education,” according to the Patriot-News.
Right. And squandering more than $135,000 on one summer retreat at a hotel that, according to the Patriot-News, offers Swedish massages and a 36-hole golf course – then trying to cover it up – really speaks volumes for how committed PHEAA is to helping typically needy college students who are swimming in a sea of student-loan debt.
The Patriot-News reckons the cost of that trip alone could have paid for maximum state grants to 39 college students.
As we all know, PHEAA instead gave that money to itself.