For years, proponents of Maryland's International Division have kept critics at bay with impressive numbers on new jobs, foreign investment and export sales flowing from lavish trade junkets. Six trade missions to Europe, East Asia and the Middle East cost the state $734,000, but supposedly generated 800 new jobs, $140 million in foreign investments and $100 million in export sales. As it turns out, the state's return on investment was far more modest. A recently released legislative audit reviewing a sampling of those claims discovered that 256 of 336 jobs were never created and that $13 million of $31 million in promised capital investment never materialized.
What's more, the audit found that participants spent a lot more time shopping and sightseeing than extolling Maryland's virtues to foreign business interests. Participants racked up more than $2,400 in entertainment expenses that had nothing to do with the purpose of the missions. And state travel regulations were routinely flouted: frequent-flier miles racked up on agency business were used for personal travel. Employees were reimbursed for meals above standard allowances and for more than $800 in alcoholic beverages.
This is damning news at a time when all eyes are trained on government waste, real and imagined. Worse, it damages the credibility of Maryland's push toward economic diversification via exports.