By Richard Billies of WasteFraudandAbuse.org
The General Services Administration (GSA) has been rocked with a scandal about excessive spending at a training conference. The Administrator of the GSA,Martha Johnson, resigned on Monday, two top executives were fired and four managers were placed on administrative leave after an internal report revealed the excessive spending.
The conference was in October at a very swanky Henderson, Nevada hotel and casino, the M Resort and Casino. GSA Inspector General Brian D. Miller released a report of the spending at the conference that detailed about $822,751 in total costs. Many of the expenditures were in violation of federal statutes.
Member of the GSA spent $136,504 on eight pre-conference scouting trips to various hotels and casino complexes around the state of Nevada before settling on the M Resort.
According to the inspector general’s report, the conference planners spent excessive amounts of money on the planning trips for travel, catering and beverages. “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.”
Some of the more outrageous spending included $44 daily breakfasts, a $95 per person closing reception, in-room catered parties, tuxedo rentals and expensive mementos to attendees to the four day extravaganza. They spent $2,000 on a clown and well over $100,000 on “team-building”, constructing a bicycle.
The Acting Regional Administrator instructed the planners to make sure that the event was “over the top” and outshone all previous conferences. Suggested for minimizing expenses were ignored.
There were numerous violations federal procurement rules according to the Inspector General’s report including:
- Disclosing competitor’s proposed pricing to a favored contractor;
- Awarding a $58,000 contract to a “large business” when the rules called for it to be awarded to a “small business”;
- Promising the hotel an additional $41,480 in catering charges in exchange for the “concession” of the hotel honoring the government’s lodging cost limit;
- Promising free rooms to a contractor’s employees, even though their contract included the cost of rooms;
- Disclosing to the team-building contractor the agency’s maximum budget for one day of training, then agreeing to pay the contractor that amount ($75,000).
The report drew immediate reactions from Congressional leaders. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) called the episode “a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars.” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said it reflects the “waste that exists in a bloated federal government.”
So what happens next? Besides the obvious embarrassment to the Obama administration, expect to see Congressional investigations with those implicated taking the Fifth Amendment in order to protect themselves from self-incrimination.
When Congress returns from recess April 16, the public buildings subpanel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will conduct “a full hearing on this and other matters, trying to hold GSA accountable for taxpayer waste and inefficiency,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the full committee.
Don’t expect the Obama administration to call for a grand jury into the violations of federal law. The perpetrators of this outrageous misuse of public funds should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but don’t hold your breath.
This escapade brings into focus the sense of entitlement that some government employees have about spending the taxpayer’s money.