The General Services Administration went “over-the-top” in spending $820,000 on a training conference in Las Vegas, the IG said. And GSA Administrator Martha Johnson took the fall Monday over the lavish event that included expensive dinners, fancy entertainment and elaborate receptions.
Johnson resigned after the inspector general concluded in a report that her agency improperly paid for a training session that featured a mind reader, bicycle giveaways, lots of expensive meals, hiring outside conference planners and an after-hour reception that cost $31,000, not to mention six trips to the site by GSA officials to plan the event, costing nearly $150,000.
“Taxpayer dollars were squandered,” Johnson wrote in her resignation letter, acknowledging a “significant misstep” at the agency. When she first learned about the excesses, she asked the inspector general to investigate.
“As the agency Congress has entrusted with developing the rules followed by other federal agencies for conferences, GSA has a special responsibility to set an example, and that did not occur here,” the inspector general concluded in its report.
The GSA scandal is likely to be strong headwinds for President Obama’s re-election campaign as his GOP opponents escalate their attacks on government that is too big, too out of control and wastes the taxpayer’s money.
“On his first day in office, President (Barack) Obama made clear that the people who serve in his administration are keepers of the public trust and that public service is a privilege,” White House chief of staff Jack Lew said in a statement. “He was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars.”
The GSA is “appalled” by the finding, said GSA spokesman Greg Mecher and is taking immediate steps to avoid a similar occurrence in the future:
- Removed two senior political appointed members of staff
- Placed four Regional Commissioners on administrative leave
- Directed the GSA Office of Administrative Services to provide greater oversight of all administrative functions and oversight of contracting for all conference-related activities
- Required mandatory annual training for all employees regarding conference planning and attendance
- Directed the agency’s Public Buildings Service to cancel all future Western Regions Conferences
- Reduced the FY2013 travel budgets for Regions 7, 8, 9 and 10, budgets to the Central Office PBS in Washington, D.C.
In addition, GSA is exploring every opportunity for funds recovery in this matter and will take appropriate actions.
Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called the conference a “junket.”
“It is never appropriate for an agency to fund lavish conferences that waste tax dollars,” she said. “This is especially true at a time when American families are struggling to put food on their own tables and the U.S. government is piling up debt at an historic pace.”