IG faults use of Star Trek movie in team building

An internal investigation at the Commerce Department has faulted a 'team building' exercise for a group of government and contract employees involved in a major weather satellite program, where workers first went to lunch and then spent an afternoon watching a matinee showing of a Star Trek movie.

"Even if watching a Star Trek movie as a unit results in greater unity or cohesion, such an event should not be considered billable to the government," the report concluded, noting that the workers didn't use personal time off to watch the show.

Investigators at the Inspector General's office in the Commerce Department said an anonymous whistleblower had complained the afternoon of food and a movie "created the appearance of disregard for tax dollars," and raised questions about whether the workers should be paid during that time.

"The results of the investigation revealed that 21 government and contract employees participated in a team lunch at a local restaurant, followed by a 2:00 p.m. showing of "Star Trek Into Darkness," which had a run time of 132 minutes," read a report that was released on Wednesday.

"Unlike training events, which are designed to develop tangible professional skills, this event was social in nature and offered no professional development whatsoever," the IG stated.

Investigators were told that supervisors involved in the GOES-R satellite program thought the workers should use their own personal leave time for the team building exercise - but a review of records showed that didn't happen.

"The OIG also determined that 13 movie attendees — six government and seven contract employees — had failed to charge their attendance at the movie as non-work hours," the report read.

"The timecards for those 13 employees were later amended or annotated," investigators added, saying the theater showing had cost Uncle Sam '$3,487.31 in taxpayer-funded wages for employees to attend the theater showing of Star Treak Into Darkness.'"

As for whether this movie was a legitimate team-building exercise, the IG bluntly rejected that, arguing that "a Star Trek movie offered no professional development opportunities."

Earlier this year, a senior manager of the weather satellite program emailed workers to remind them that while this investigation might seem small in nature, it is still important.

scrutinized, programs in the history of the Department of Commerce.

"There are many eyes watching us. Yet, events like this cast a negative light on the program despite all the great work that we do day-in and day-out. The U.S. taxpayers have a right to expect that those of us in public service

are being wise stewards of their tax dollars.

While we want everyone to be able to participate in team activities from time-to-time, because these often take place during normal office hours it is important to remember that working hour requirements still apply and all Government employees and contractors are to adhere to them."

As that email noted, the GOES-R weather satellite program has faced controversy in recent years, mainly over its cost and delays.

The first launch had been scheduled for 2015, but that has now been pushed back to "early 2016."

The satellite is a joint product of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the space agency NASA.