The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was looking for a little magic this week.
The federal agency was advertising for a certified motivational speaker for a one-day conference who could inspire leadership using magic techniques.
The winning bidder for the contract, according to a job posting that went up Tuesday, but was then removed Thursday after press inquiries and commentary by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, would have come from a controversial school of educational theory developed by Harvard University's Howard Gardner, who developed the idea of multiple intelligences.
According to the ad, the winning bidder was to 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 competency."
Headline writers at Government Executive ("NOAA seeks magician for training conference") and Politico ("NOAA makes magic ad disappear") had fun at the expense of the agency, but posters on the Government Executive website were mostly indignant at the sensationalizing of the idea, notably references to the ill-conceived, gluttonous, no-holds-barred, $823,000 General Services Administration 2010 conference in Las Vegas that featured a magician as well as a mind reader, and commemorative coins and other acts that stayed in Vegas — exploding into the media last month with career-shattering impact.
"Shame on Government Executive for the 'breaking news' sensationalism," wrote a poster identified only as Tobyr1. "This is exactly the kind of flame-fanning that is likely to result in another knee-jerk reaction from Congress to further beat up on federal employees. Thanks, Government Executive."
Brown didn't see any humor in the NOAA advertisement.
"This is a new low even by Washington's standards," the Massachusetts senator said in a prepared statement. "This is taxpayer abuse, pure and simple, and I urge Commerce Secretary John Bryson to immediately cancel these frivolous plans."
Tobyr1 was in a slim majority, but others seemed to see the solicitation as a sign of bureaucratic rot.
"Is it any wonder federal employees are being attacked given these comments indicating entitlement?" retorted steve5656546346.
One poster wrote that the requirement that the speaker be educated in the theories of Howard Gardner hinted at a pre-selected winning bidder.
For its part, NOAA thought better of the idea of hiring a Howard Gardner proté©gé© after the ad became notorious, and pulled it from the Federal Business Opportunities website, meaning the one-day quarterly training conference for about 45 employees of NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research will have to go on without a motivational speaker.
The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research is facing a significant downsizing as climate research and modeling are to be detached to become the work of a new agency, but OAR was still budgeted for $212 million for fiscal 2013 beginning in October.
The posting for the magic-making inspirational speaker did not contain a budgeted amount for a day's work during a three-day leadership conference, set for Silver Spring from June 12 to 14. The conference will address "executorship (getting results), entrepreneurialism (risk-taking), ethical behavior (applying rules and regulations), and emotional intelligence (building productive relationships)," according to the posting.
Gardner has theorized that there are multiple intelligences which exist somewhat in parallel or independently from each other. These intelligent dimensions include: spatial, linguistic, logical/mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, musically, interpersonally, naturalistically as well as morally and existentially.
Gardner's theory has met with significant skepticism, based on the generally close correlation of different measures of intelligence found by traditional testing approaches.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or email@example.com.