GSA shaken up after details of 2010 Vegas conference spending revealed

Remember when President Obama told the recipients of “stimulus” money to not hold conferences in Las Vegas? It seems he forgot to tell the General Services Administration about that, or the fact that the government was spending trillions more than it was taking in for that matter. The GSA held an “over the top” Western Regions Conference at the M Resort and Casino in neighboring Henderson, Nevada in October 2010 costing $823,000. the Washington Post reports that, as a result, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson resigned, two of her top aides were fired, and four GSA managers who organized the conference were suspended:

The leadership collapse came hours before GSA Inspector General Brian D. Miller released a scathing report on the $823,000 training conference, held for 300 West Coast employees at the M Resort and Casino, an opulent hotel in Henderson, Nev., just south of Las Vegas. From $130,000 in travel expenses for six scouting trips to a $2,000 party in Peck’s loft suite, event planners violated federal limits on conference spending.

Some of the “highlights” from the linked report include:

  • $75,000 spent on a “team-building” exercise, which was to build a total of 24 bicycles. Of note, the GSA sidestepped its own Federal Surplus Property Donation Program to get the bikes to the local Boys’ and Girls’ Club.
  • $6,325 spent on the commemorative “stimulus” coins pictured on the front page, along with velvet boxes to hold the coins.
  • $31,028 spent on food and non-alcoholic beverages (there was a cash bar), or more than $100 per attendee, for a first-night reception where said commemorative “stimulus” coins were handed out.
  • $8,130 spent on “yearbooks”, $2,781.50 spent on canteens and carabiners, and $3,749.40 spent on shirts (the last for the “team-building” exercise), all in violation of GSA policy against agency money being spent on “momentos” of a conference.
  • The “Capstone Dinner” on the last night of the conference was turned into a “Talent Award Showcase” ceremony, complete with a red carpet, “so that federal funds could be spent for food”.

This isn’t exactly the first time exceedingly-wasteful spending by the GSA under the guidance of Johnson has come to light. Last year, it bought 116 electric cars for $4.5 million.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) had this to say upon learning of this episode:

After President Obama lectured the private sector about not wasting funds on Las Vegas conventions, it’s hypocritical that such a large agency with critical management responsibilities across government would hold this luxurious conference at the height of the recession and even spend thousands on custom made coins touting the stimulus.

Employees congratulating themselves and promoting one of the most politically controversial initiatives of this Administration with taxpayer funds is indicative of the waste that exists in a bloated federal government. I appreciate the work of GSA Inspector General Brian Miller in investigating this matter. I expect that the committee will have additional questions for him and GSA about this wasteful spending.

Exit question: Was it the Vegas location, the Porkulus coins, or the fact this came out during election season the reason the GSA was shaken up?