The head of the General Services Administration resigned after an inquiry found the U.S. agency had lavished $4-a-shrimp appetizers on employees and minted commemorative coins for a meeting at a Las Vegas area resort.
The $823,000 conference in October 2010 at the M Resort Spa Casino in Henderson, Nevada, also involved a payment of $8,130 to print “yearbooks” for participants and $5 each for “Mini Monte Cristo sandwiches,” according to an investigation released yesterday by the agency’s inspector general.
“Reports of an internal conference in which taxpayer dollars were squandered led me to launch internal reviews, take disciplinary personnel action and institute tough new controls to ensure this incident is not repeated,” GSA chief Martha Johnson wrote in her resignation letter. “I feel I must step aside as administrator so that the agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership.”
The GSA, which manages and rents property for government agencies and obtains equipment and services, holds regional conferences for its staff. The acting administrator of Region 9, covering the western U.S., instructed planners to make the 2010 conference in Nevada “over the top,” bigger and better than previous events, according to the inspector general.
“GSA spending on conference planning was excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissible,” the watchdog office found. “GSA failed to follow contracting regulations in many of the procurements associated with the conference and wasted taxpayers dollars.”
President Barack Obama was “outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars,” Jacob Lew, the White House chief of staff, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Johnson, an Obama appointee, fired two senior officials of the agency and disciplined others before resigning, according to Lew.
Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California zeroed in on the $6,325 for commemorative coins, which saluted the GSA’s work on the stimulus spending backed by Obama.
“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,” Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in an e-mailed statement.
The regional GSA officials spent $136,504 on eight pre- conference events, including two Las Vegas “scouting” trips and a “dry run.” An additional $686,247 was spent on conference travel, catering and vendors for the 299 GSA attendees.
The $146,527 food bill for the conference included $34 a person for breakfasts.
A cocktail reception and the meeting’s closing dinner cost $30,207.60. GSA personnel munched on the $4 shrimp, as well as $5 Boursin Scalloped Potato with Barolo Wine Braised Short Ribs. No tax dollars were spent on alcohol, according to the report.
A GSA event planner asked the M Resort’s conference services manager to help arrange the purchase of a $98 purse she “cannot live without,” according to the report.
The M Resort manager responded, “I can give you a $30 comp,” and the discount was promptly accepted, the report found.
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