The practice of gaming the system in order to bill taxpayers for food at lavish conferences was so widespread within the General Services Administration that it became a "running joke" among certain employees, the GSA inspector general testified Tuesday.

Inspector General Brian Miller, who blew the whistle on agency spending with a report on its $820,000 conference in Las Vegas, explained how leaders with the western region of GSA got around the administration's rule of not having food at conferences. The work-around was simple -- just hold an awards ceremony, and food would be provided at taxpayer expense.

"Many times in Region 9, witnesses told us that it became a running joke with the Region 9 regional commissioner that even at staff meetings he would say, 'We're going to have a meeting in another location and we're going to have food so we have to do what?' And his senior staff is said to have said, 'Give out awards,'" Miller said.