The head of the General Services Administration, the very agency responsible for holding federal agencies accountable to the taxpayer and for implementing policies that cut down on wasteful government spending, has resigned after a scathing inspector general's report shows lavish spending on a Las Vegas conference, to the tune of nearly $1 million.
Administrator Martha N. Johnson, in her resignation letter, acknowledged a “significant misstep” at the agency that manages real estate for the federal government. “Taxpayer dollars were squandered,” she wrote. At the start of her tenure in February 2010 she called ethics “a big issue for me.”
The leadership collapse came hours before GSA Inspector General Brian D. Miller released a scathing report on the $823,000 training conference, held for 300 West Coast employees at the M Resort and Casino, an opulent hotel in Henderson, Nev., just south of Las Vegas. From $130,000 in travel expenses for six scouting trips to a $2,000 party in Peck’s loft suite, event planners violated federal limits on conference spending.
Among the “excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissable” spending the inspector general documented: $5,600 for three semi-private catered in-room parties and $44 per person daily breakfasts; $75,000 for a “team-building” exercise — the goal was to build a bicycle; $146,000 on catered food and drinks; and $6,325 on commemorative coins in velvet boxes to reward all participants for their work on stimulus projects. The $31,208 “networking” reception featured a $19-per-person artisanal cheese display and $7,000 of sushi. At the conference’s closing-night dinner, employees received “yearbooks” with their pictures, at a cost of $8,130.
The GSA also failed to follow regulations on the use of contractors for the conference, promising, for example, the hotel an additional $41,480 in catering charges in exchange for the hotel lowering its lodging cost to honor the government’s limit on room prices.
President-elect Barack Obama vowed today to get rid of federal programs that no longer make sense and run others in a more frugal way to make Washington work in tough economic times.
Obama said that to make the needed investments to create jobs, "we also have to shed the spending we don't need."
"In these challenging times, when we are facing both rising deficits and a sinking economy, budget reform is not an option. It is an imperative," Obama said. "We cannot sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness, or exist solely because of the power of a politicians, lobbyists, or interest groups. We simply cannot afford it. This isn’t about big government or small government. It’s about building a smarter government that focuses on what works. That is why I will ask my new team to think anew and act anew to meet our new challenges.... We will go through our federal budget – page by page, line by line – eliminating those programs we don’t need, and insisting that those we do operate in a sensible cost-effective way."
The bigger the government is, the more problems we have and the more disrespected taxpayers become. President Obama said he was "outraged" by the GSA spending revelations, but between the $1 trillion waste in stimulus, Solyndra and many other companies like it filing for bankruptcy after being offered billions in taxpayer funding, this administration has proven wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars isn't a concern.