NOAA said presentations at the “The Magic of Change” conference in suburban Maryland in June should include "physical energizers, magic tricks, puzzles, brain teasers, word games, humor and teambuilding exercises," the Associated Press reported.
The a posting on FedBizOpps.gov. also asked for the performer to create "a unique model of translating magic and principals of the psychology of magic, magic tools, techniques and experiences into a method of teaching leadership."
According to The Washington Post, NOAA — the US agency in charge of weather, climate and oceans — pulled the ad after news media reports suggested a magician would be in poor taste.
“NOAA has removed a solicitation for a speaker at a leadership training for career staff posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website,” Scott Smullen, the agency’s deputy communications chief, said in a statement. “No speakers have been hired or confirmed for this training session.”
The Post said the embarassing turnaround came weeks after a mind reader hired by the General Services Administration paid $3,200 for a similar act at its 2010 Western Regions conference in Las Vegas.
At that four-day Las Vegas event, which cost taxpayers $823,000, a self-described mentalist and “motivational speaker with a “WOW’ factor” named Bob Garner entertained 300 employees poolside at a luxury hotel.
A GSA inspector general's report cited is as being among many abuses of position by the agency chief and more than a dozen managers, who were forced out of their jobs.
In an eight page bid solicitation, NOAA said it wanted to use the emotional intelligence techniques of a prominent Harvard professor who has written five books, although it misspelled his name.
The AP cited Steve Ellis, vice president for the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, as saying that the NOAA's plans were made more surprising by its proximity to the GSA scandal, which had raised people's awareness about silly conference spending.
"It gets filed under `What were they thinking'?" Ellis said. "It boggles the mind that somebody thought that this would pass the laugh test of the public."
Headline writers at Government Executive and Politico, meanwhile, had fun at the expense of the agency, with "NOAA seeks magician for training conference" and "NOAA makes magic ad disappear."
Patricia McBride-Finneran told Government Executive that NOAA’s solicitation bore no comparison with the GSA affair.
“I’m sure it will be talked about, and this is a new topic,” McBride-Finneran 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.”