The centennial celebration at the Labor Department's annual Honor Awards event should have been a glitzy affair this year, but the sequester and furloughs got in the way.
Gone were the lavish flower arrangements, the red carpet, cash awards of up to $10,000, fancy trophies and glossy programs. Instead, in a bow to sequestration and in an effort to commemorate the department's creation in 1913, award winners posed with cutouts of the first labor secretary, received nifty trophies made by Jobs Corps kids and even had their pictures taken with a Washington Nationals Racing President, William Howard Taft, a tribute to the president who created the Cabinet agency.
"We saved the department hundreds of thousands of dollars," said the Labor Department's chief spokesman, Carl Fillichio. "When the sequester came, we couldn't do some things."
But with furloughs already taking place inside the department, some said even the $700 Fillichio spent to rent Taft was too much. "It was out of line. They need to be a lot more sensitive to those losing their pay," said one insider. "Splurging on that mascot was ridiculous," added another.
Fillichio noted that the total cost for the May 9 Honor Awards was less than $1,000, and the awards were tied to the 100th birthday of the department with creative and inexpensive touches.
For example, a $2 JibJab video was cut featuring first Labor Secretary William Wilson's face superimposed on a guitar player singing "You Rock." Employees got to pose with cutouts of Wilson and former Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, for whom the Labor Department's headquarters building is named. The awards were made by Jobs Corps workers from 100-year-old wood.
"It was a way to engage employees," said Fillichio, adding that the effort was especially difficult since the department has no secretary.