GSA Administrator Resigns After Report Finds Small Agency Spent $820,000 On Lavish Nevada Conference

In Washington, there are a few standard rules of engagement. Rule 436 is “if you are going to spend taxpayer dollars on lavish vacations, do not make a mocking video boasting that you will buy those things the agency can’t afford and “never be under OIG investigation.” This week the Office of Inspector General (OIG) proved the difference between rap and reality — it issued a damning report on the $820,000 spent by Public Buildings Service’s western region at the M Resort Spa and Casino in Henderson, Nevada.

The report has already caused the resignation of General Services Administration chief Martha Johnson. Johnson previously dismissed two deputies and suspended other career employees over the affair.

The report on the conference of this tiny agency within the General Services Administration contains an incredible list of excessive items, including more than $6,000 on commemorative coins, $8,000 on a “yearbook” and $3,200 for an in-house mind reader. What struck me most was the over $130,000 on pre-convention preparation, including visits to the proposed sites that cost $100,000, with another $30,000 for catering. It also included a consultant contract for $12,000 to help find a location they would repeatedly visit. I fail to understand why our federal building employees cannot find a resort on their own, particularly when resorts have staff to facilitate such conferences.

I am happy to report that this trip to Canada and Vermont was brought in at a cost less than $820,000, though we did order a second helping of Frickles last night. Nevertheless, I have asked our guest editors to investigate all of the expenses of this trip in our commitment to a transparent public-regarding blog. (I will note that the over-consumption of maple syrup was done yesterday without the knowledge or approval of the parents in the Depot Restaurant in Randolph).

Source: CNN

68 thoughts on “GSA Administrator Resigns After Report Finds Small Agency Spent $820,000 On Lavish Nevada Conference”

  1. No no no .. not you too, Jonathan! Someone really has to talk with one of us in the meetings industry who can explain how to plan a meeting ethically and with cost-savings in mind.

    What GSA and their contractors and the hotel did was not wrong in too many ways. There are many of us who also oppose commissions to find properties for meetings; who can’t understand how in the hell they needed all those site inspection (“scouting” in the report) trips to find this resort — esp. since commissionable companies always say that they have great buying power and know all the properties; who think the purse incident was despicable and against everything that the codes of ethics in our industry state; who are fascinated by the bike/team building costs and wonder the percentage of the contractor’s mark-up.

    Planning a meeting is not like planning a vacation .. in any way shape or form. It is far more complex. Negotiating the hotel contract (if done well) for all the conditions and rates, dates and space is something that only professionals should undertake. (I testify in the hospitality/meetings industry as an expert witness; I know what it takes.) Planning meals and understanding the food allergy and dietary needs of participants can take time and lots of knowledge.

    The prices they paid for food were the only thing that appears to be within reason. Really! Prices include taxes and service charges (what we call “plus-plus” in the industry) and are added to the individual meal prices. $62/gallon for coffee is pretty reasonable for hotel coffee. (Yeah, we hate it too but the labor costs are a factor.) Maybe the choices of food items were bad choices; the prices were in line with what most of us pay at hotels.

    Perhaps what’s needed is training of their meetings staff and smarter contracting. Perhaps GSA (and other govt. agencies and NGOs) need to establish goals and objectives (“Meeting Planning 101”) before they begin the processes.

    Just don’t paint f2f meetings and those of us who plan them in such a bad light.

  2. PS I was just thinking of pancakes with maple syrup. Can there be a connection. Your mention of services of a mind reader suggest that.

  3. Immediately making a mistake just to surprise folks,
    I see the Professor has been bragging of his offsprings misdeeds to CNN.
    He is even so daring as to give CNN as a source for further information.
    Thank you, sir, for the transparency.
    The Koch brothers are under no such requirement, but then you are not either—-which puzzles me.

  4. If I could just find one Congressman to sponsor a bill to end ScaliaCare as we know it. You all know what ScaliaCare is dont ya? It is that Cadillac program for Federal Judges for their health care: doctors, hospitals, clinics, drugs like oxycotton, the whole nine yards. After Justice Scalia was deriding my Obamacare the other day I decided that we need to take away his ScaliaCare. Sauce for the goose and all that rot.

  5. AN,

    Priest, Stock trader, mind reader all need to make a living….. Illusions be damned……

  6. I could plan a Vegas vacation for them in about a day. I’d charge them, let’s see, $200 for my services, and bring the conference in at a cost of about $100/person/day. Can I have the job?

  7. Gene,
    you are spot on. This is the same kind of unlawful conduct that happens every day in corporations across America. The individuals who are responsible for this should be indicted, just like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were indicted for torture….oh wait, bad example!

  8. Professor Turley,

    Since everyone else has covered the GSA misconduct very well, I will address myself to your offer of reviewing your expenses on this recent trip. Please provide a complete report on all expenses, including receipts, for everything covered by my tax dollars. It’s not necessary to include anything purchased with your own hard-earned funds. : )

  9. There is a distinct lack of accountability in the federal government. This sort of hubris isn’t confined to GSA. The managers basically do whatever they want. Only occasionally are they held accountable.

    With regard to the picture above, there was a press report a year of so ago about SEC employees surfing porn sites on their work computers all day.

  10. Bron,

    There is no difference other than victims. Crime is crime. Criminals are criminals.

  11. Gene H:

    private sector can and is just as bad in some instances, only difference is that it isnt my money they are screwing with unless I own stock in the company. Stock which I am free to buy and sell in a Tyco like scenario.

    We could probably pay for health care for the 20 million or so who dont have it by just cutting wasteful spending and pork barrel projects.

  12. roger gunderson:

    that is a very good analogy and there should be an acounting of every penny spent and what it is spent on. Although it is probably required, we just dont know where to look and it is probably 10,000 pages long.

  13. It makes me wonder why there are no public agency to let we the people know where every penny is spent. Does every government agency have its own money tree? An analogy might be that the taxpayer is the 98 year old guy with alzheimer’s married to a 21 year old floozy.

  14. Bron,

    Fraud and misappropriation of funds is not a phenomena unique to government. It’s a crime. If you’d like a private sector example? You need look no further than Tyco International. And just like in the Tyco case, the criminals responsible for these actions should go to prison too.

  15. Its sad that this crap happens & mind-boggling that people think its OK or that they will get away with it. Glad there were firings, hope they got the guilty parties.

    The other sad part is that this will be used forever as a reason why we need to prevent the government from doing anything but dropping bombs on people. When it happens in private enterprise its a bad employee (this sort of thing happened with a VP in a division I worked for once) and they are canned but nobody suggests the entire company should be scraped.

  16. when the money you spend isnt yours, the sky is the limit. This may not be typical but it is certainly my impression of government spending.

    I have a beautiful solid maple conference table I bought from a second hand shop which purchased it from the federal government, I dont remember the agency, but there is nothing wrong with it and I have been using it for the last 6 years in my office. I paid $900 for it at the second hand shop. The owner of the shop said the purchase price which the government paid was $6,000.00. I dont know if that is true but it is solid wood and it is 8′ long and 4′ wide with steel support and has a very nice finish. It is not veneer.

    Why would the government get rid of it when I have gotten 6 years use and probably it will last until I retire.

    They just dont care because it is not their money.

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