St. Petersburg, FL (PRWEB) April 06, 2012
At a time when the Obama administration has led a campaign against government waste, the director of the General Services Administration (GSA), Martha Johnson, has resigned and two deputies have been fired due to over spending at the agency’s 2010 biennial Western Regions Conference (WRC) in Las Vegas, NV. According to the 2012 Management Deficiency Report by GSA Inspector General Brian Miller, the conference expenditures totaled $822,751, from $130,000 in scouting trips to over $146,000 on food and beverage catering.
When GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson began her job in February 2010 at the agency that oversees all government real estate, she had proclaimed that ethics was "a big issue for me." It was later that year that Johnson unveiled with great fanfare GSA's new security slogan: "If You See Something, Say Something."
"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," Miller wrote in his report. Miller said the GSA "followed neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending."
The WRC was held for 300 West Coast GSA employees at the opulent M Resort and Casino just south of Las Vegas. According to Miller’s report,”GSA failed to follow contracting regulations in many of the procurements associated with the WRC and wasted taxpayer funds.” GSA did not comply with the government-approved lodging rate of $93/night for traveling federal employees and even made numerous concessions to the hotel to obtain a lodging price reduction. Conference planning was also excessive and wasteful with GSA employees conducting two “scouting trips,” five off-site planning meetings and a “dry run.” Six of the planning events took place at the M Resort with travel expenses totaling over $100,000 solely on pre-conference planning.
GSA also incurred excessive and impermissible costs for food and beverages at the WRC, totaling $146,527. Miller’s report also points out GSA incurred questionable miscellaneous expenses including mementos for attendees, purchases of clothing for GSA employees, tuxedo rentals, as well as the hiring of a clown and mind reader for the main convention event. Event planners were also told to make the conference “over the top” and to make it bigger and better than previous conferences. Several suggestions by GSA employees to make budget cuts and to minimize expenses were ignored.
Congress has entrusted the GSA with developing the rules followed by other federal agencies for conferences. “It is sad to see another example in which those in charge of utilizing public funds have once again abused their power and wasted valuable resources,” commented Eric Knellinger, President of US Federal Contractor Registration.
The Obama administration was alerted in March to the yearlong investigation of the WRC. How much government should spend and on what has made its way into the presidential campaign debate and will likely be a heavily battled topic between Democrats and Republicans. Obama was briefed by Chief of staff Jacob Lew and “was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealing with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars,” Lew said in a statement to the Washington Post. Obama has called for “all those responsible to be held fully accountable.”
The White House accepted Johnson’s resignation after she dismissed two deputies and suspended other career employees due to the costly conference. Johnson put in place new rules to prevent future spending, but they were not enough to keep her in her job.
"I feel I must step aside as administrator so that the agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team," Johnson wrote in her resignation. "Collectively, the people of GSA now must review, repair and rebuild."
Johnson served as a co-leader for the Obama transition team and previously was a vice president at 90,000-employee Computer Sciences Corporation. During the Clinton administration, she was a White House aide, an official at the Commerce Department and the chief of staff at the General Services Administration.
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