GSA shake-up follows ‘stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars’

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Bad day at GSA.

General Services Administration chief Martha Johnson resigned and two of her top deputies were fired Monday in the wake of a coming inspector general report detailing a lavish conference held in Las Vegas costing just under a million dollars in taxpayer money.

“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,” Johnson wrote in her resignation letter. “In addition, I feel I must step aside as Administrator so that the Agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team.”

Johnson, her top adviser Stephen Leeds and Public Buildings Service chief Robert A. Peck made their exit Monday. The four GSA employees who organized the conference have been placed on administrative leave, according to The Washington Post.

The event, held in October 2010, cost $835,000 including $147,000 spent on six planning trips for organizers, $3,200 for a mind reader, $6,300 for a commemorative coin set displayed in velvet boxes and $75,000 for a training exercise to build a bicycle, The Washington Post reported.

Three hundred employees attended the event, which Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman’s office termed the GSA boondoggle.

“This was a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars,” Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Lieberman said in a statement. “The people responsible for it should be held accountable.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa also had some tough words for the high expenditures.

“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.”

The administration contends that the responsible parties will be held accountable.

“When the White House was informed of the inspector general’s findings, we acted quickly to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Lew said in a statement, reported by WTOP. “The president was informed before his trip to South Korea, and he was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars.”

“[The president] called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as President,” Lew added.

GSA spokesman Greg Mecher told The Washington Post that the GSA is taking steps to improve training and provide more conference oversight to make sure there is not a repeat of this kind of excessive spending.

“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,” Mecher said.

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Caroline May