Uncle Sam tackles demon rum … again!

Is Prohibition, which ended in 1933, coming back to federal offices? Will root-beer-based martinis be the new drink of choice of federal party-goers? Senior Cor...

“Happy Days Are (not) Here Again” in the government. At least not in the federal government. And you know why.

Prohibition, as the law of the land, lasted from 1920 to 1933. We as a nation are still fighting (many would say losing) a war against illegal drugs. But getting liquor is no longer a problem. And Uncle Sam makes ton of money from taxes on beer, wine and the hard stuff.

But while the “Madmen” TV series has made many long for the good old days, three-piece suits, cigarettes everywhere and double-martini lunches, Uncle Sam (as is often the case) is heading in a different direction. A place where employees who want to get ahead (or at least not lose their heads), who are relaxing after an official conference or meeting will opt for a diet root-beer based Margarita, and then off to bed. Alone, of course! You know what’s coming.

As a result of the well-publicized GSA and Secret Service “scandals”, not to mention the DUI arrest of the (now former) head of the FAA, drinking even off-duty is no longer cool. Or the smart thing to do. So how’s that going to work out? And for how long?

A keen student of history will conclude that the 13-year period when we had to get booze from Canada, the Bahamas or some sharpie’s bathtub didn’t work out so well. At least for honest folk.

Many people believe it jump-started organized crime (they feel the same way about our current drug laws), and cut into badly needed tax revenue. Most experts say that the so-called “noble experiment” didn’t work (can you say Al Capone?) But like a lot of things that don’t work out, it seemed like a good idea at the time to many people.

Flash forward to 2012.

Folks in the hospitality business love Uncle Sam. The government holds hundreds of conferences, trade shows, exhibits, etc., each year. San Antonio, Las Vegas, Orlando, New Orleans, St. Louis and Kansas City are favorite places. Hotels and large motels in the Washington area benefit too. They are hot (literally) towns in the summer and offer low-rates to fill hotel and dining rooms. And bars. Caterers love Uncle Sam because he generally pays quickly, and his credit is good.

Booking a big federal conference or meeting is a coup for the sales manager and his or her staff. A guaranteed chunk of change during the otherwise slow (low rates) summer months.

While federal workers have a reputation in the hospitality trade as being, uh, frugal for the most part, some folks are not afraid to exceed their per diem limits and pay for additional food, drinks and entertainment out of their own pockets.

But bar tabs may be going down, big time, at upcoming federal conferences. At least for awhile.

Several federal agencies have issued new guidelines for what employees should — but mostly shouldn’t — do while at government-sponsored conferences. Beware of “Demon Rum” during working hours is a constant theme.

More than that, workers at three different agencies say they’ve been told — verbally, not in writing — not to drink after hours. That is once the conference ends for the day, if you head for the bar it should be the barbells in the hotel gym.

A GSA employee said he hadn’t heard of the no-drinking-period warning, but he did note that the regular Public Buildings Service golf tournament (which was scheduled for Wednesday) was cancelled. Workers who participate normally take a vacation day and pay their own ($65) fees. But given recent events, it was decided this was not a good time to tee off in midweek.

It is impossible to see how far, and deeply, the new prohibition will go in the federal government. Or how long it will last.

But if you enjoy a post-conference libation after a hard day of out-of-town conferencing, make it a root beer. Or do it off premises.

Unless it is a congressional function or fund-raiser.


By Jack Moore

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