|GSA Head Resigns After
'Excessive' Conference Revealed
|WASHINGTON -- The head of the General Services Administration resigned Monday after an inspector general report concluded the agency that manages federal building and facilities paid more than $800,000 for a five-day, training conference for Public Building Service workers at a resort near the Las Vegas strip.
The White House accepted GSA head Martha Johnson's resignation after she dismissed two deputies and suspended other career employees over the $820,000 conference. The 300-person event at the M Resort Spa and Casino in Henderson, Nev. may have violated various federal laws and policies.
"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," according to the inspector general report, which characterized the conference as “excessive, wasteful, and in some cases impermissible."
Four GSA employees who organized the five-day Public Buildings Service 2010 Western Regions Conference have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.
To select a venue and plan the conference, GSA employees conducted two “scouting trips,” five off-site planning meetings, and a “dry run.” Six of these planning events took place at the M Resort (the conference venue) itself. Travel expenses for conference planning totaled $100,405, and catering costs totaled over $30,000. GSA spent money on refreshment breaks during the planning meetings, which it had no authority to do, and the cost of catered meals at those meetings exceeded per diem limits.
That report also found "redundant and wasteful" practices, such as hiring outside event planners who received a $12,000 commission from the resort, which the investigators said "strongly indicates that further discounts might have been available to GSA if GSA had contracted the hotel directly."
Planners spent $31,000 on a "networking reception" and taxpayers also footed the bill for a $3,200 session with a mind reader, $5,600 for in-room parties, $3,700 for T-shirts and almost $2,800 in water bottles.
"I find the information in your report to be very troubling as it outlines potential violations of federal procurement laws and agency policy," Johnson said in a memo that accompanied the inspector general's report.
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."