Chief of GSA Resigns Over "Wasteful" Vegas Seminar

By: From CNN, Posted by Ralph Hipp
By: From CNN, Posted by Ralph Hipp

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The head of the General Services Administration resigned Monday after a scathing report that called government spending on a training seminar in Las Vegas "excessive, wasteful, and in some cases impermissible."

The White House put out a statement that President Barack Obama was "outraged" when he found out about the spending. GSA Administrator Martha Johnson admitted in a letter of resignation that her agency had made a "significant misstep" and that "taxpayer dollars were squandered."

A GSA Inspector General's report on the 2010 GSA "Western Regions" training conference in Las Vegas shows the government spent more than $822,000 for the 300 attendees, including $75,000 on team building exercises, $6,000 on commemorative coins and $6,000 on canteens, keychains and T-shirts.

President Obama was informed about the report last week before his South Korean trip and administration officials said he acted quickly. "[H]e was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars." White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement Monday.

Lew said 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."

An administration official told CNN the president respects Johnson's decision (to resign), and believes as stewards of taxpayer dollars, these episodes are not acceptable. The Inspector General's findings show the 2010 training conference was held at the lavish M Resort Spa and Casino outside of Las Vegas.

The report shows that GSA employees "scouted" the location several times before the conference and that travel for conference planning totaled more than $100,000, with catering costs of more than $30,000. Add to that costs for the actual conference of more than $686,000 and the total comes to $822,751.

In her letter of resignation, Johnson said that when she was made aware of the allegations of excessive and questionable spending for the conference she launched internal reviews, took "personnel disciplinary action" and instituted "tough new controls to ensure this incident is not repeated." That was not enough, she said, adding she is resigning to allow the GSA to "move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team."

Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman leveled bruising criticism. "This was a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars. The people responsible for it should be held accountable," Lieberman said in a statement.

Johnson came into her position amid controversy. Her appointment as head of the GSA was held up for 10 months through an arcane Senate procedure known as the "hold," in which one senator can delay a nomination without reason. When Johnson was finally confirmed by the Senate in 2010, the White House touted it as an example of why Americans are so frustrated with Washington.


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