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Vegas spending spree prompts resignation at federal agency

April 02, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • Martha Johnson, administrator of the General Services Administration, in 2010.
Martha Johnson, administrator of the General Services Administration,… (Brendan Smialowski / Getty…)

Reporting from Washington —

Remember the furor over $16 muffins? That's nothing compared with the $100-plus per-person reception that featured 400 pieces of $4.75 "Petit Beef Wellington," 400 "Mini Monte Cristo Sandwiches" at $5 each and 1,000 sushi rolls for $7 apiece, as well as other "excessive and wasteful" spending at a General Services Administration conference in the Las Vegas area in 2010.

The $822,000 cost of the conference, attended by about 300 employees, led Monday to the resignation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, along with the dismissal of two of her deputies – while prompting outrage on Capitol Hill. In a letter to the GSA, Johnson said, "I feel I must step aside as administrator so that the agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team."

A stinging report by the GSA inspector general criticized agency officials for having parties in their rooms at M Resort Spa Casino – catered at taxpayer expense – and using public funds for tuxedo rentals and spending money in a way that is "incompatible" with the agency's obligation to be a "responsible steward of the public's money."

"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," the inspector general report said.

Total cost of catered food and beverages was $146,527.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was especially outraged by the spending of $6,325 on commemorative coins recognizing employees' work on the economic stimulus. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the panel's top Democrat, said the report revealed a "gross abuse of taxpayer dollars and a breach of public trust."

A GSA spokesman said that the agency was "appalled" by the inspector general's findings and promised to consider further disciplinary action and reforms.

"The General Services Administration has made eliminating excessive spending and promoting efficiency one of its top priorities and is taking steps to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again," the agency said in a statement.

The Justice Department inspector general last year set off a public furor in a report on excessive costs at Justice Department conferences, including muffins that supposedly cost $16. The inspector general later revised its report to say the $16 price included fruit, coffee and juice, plus tax and tip, in addition to the muffins. Still, the report angered lawmakers because of other expenses, such as the $32 per-person cost of Cracker Jacks and other snacks and $600,000 for event planners.

richard.simon@latimes.com

Original source: Vegas spending spree prompts resignation at the GSA

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