A mind reader, a clown and a comedian walk into a bar.
Actually, we don't know about a bar. But we do know they walked into a conference of federal workers held outside Las Vegas in October 2010.
And though it sounds like the start of a joke, it isn't. Someone at the General Services Administration, the federal agency charged with managing government property, actually approved using taxpayer money to pay the three to appear at the meeting.
Obviously, it's the kind of embarrassing story any administration wants to avoid on its watch, especially during a time of fiscal austerity when federal workers are coming under attack from some conservatives and a general election looms for a president seeking a second term.
Which likely helps explain the sudden departures Monday from the GSA of its administrator, Martha Johnson, and two of her deputies. The Washington Post first reported on the unusual spending for the conference and has a report on the resignations, including Johnson's resignation letter. A report based on a government investigation is due out soon, which is why heads are pre-emptively rolling now.
An excerpt from the Post:
"Organizers spent $835,000 on the event, which was attended by 300 employees. The expenses included $147,000 in airfare and lodging at the hotel for six planning trips by a team of organizers. Among the other expenses were $3,200 for a mind reader; $6,300 on commemorative coin set displayed in velvet boxes and $75,000 on a training exercise to build a bicycle.
" 'When the White House was informed of the Inspector General's findings we acted quickly to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars,' White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement to The Washington Post. President Obama 'was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars,' Lew said, 'and called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable.' "
We can be fairly confident that this won't be the last time something some federal employees do will have at least a few people recalling the song "Send in the Clowns" and its lyrics:
"... And where are the clowns? There ought to be clowns. Don't bother they're here."