Four weeks after its $823,000 spending spree at a Las Vegas hotel, the General Services Administration spent more than $268,732 on a one-day, taxpayer-funded ceremony to reward good performers, flying in 49 of the 200 employees it honored, officials said Thursday.
Expenses for the awards November 2010 event for the agency’s Federal Acquisition Service included $34,073.38 for space at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington; $20,578.24 for 4,000 drumsticks for a team-building event; and $140,464.06 to a logistical support company. Travel for the 49 employees flown in from around the country came to $49,734.
The new round of lavish spending was uncovered by acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, whom President Obama appointed in April to turn around the agency. Tangherlini, who is conducting an extensive review of day-to-day operations, became alarmed by the cost of the Nov. 17, 2010, event and referred it to Inspector General Brian Miller for review.
Miller provided some congressional offices with his preliminary findings on Thursday.
“These events indicate an already recognized pattern of misjudgment which spans several years and administrations,” GSA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said in a statement.
She said the agency’s new leadership “is leaving no stone unturned” in investigating misuse of taxpayer dollars. “When we find serious issues, we refer them to the inspector general.” She said the awards ceremony, an annual event since 2002, has been canceled.
The acquisition service oversees most federal purchasing. The agency’s other arm, the Public Buildings Service, hosted the four-day Western Regions event in Las Vegas, billed as a training conference for 300 employees. It featured far more entertainment, with after-hours parties in the loft suites of top officials, a mind reader and a bicycle-building event. In an awards ceremony that was videotaped, participants mocked the high cost of the event.
Tangherlini has slashed executive bonuses, travel and conference budgets, and he instituted a hiring freeze this week. A total of 36 planned conferences for this fiscal year were canceled, officials said.
The latest misspending drew quick, bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill, where two Republican lawmakers held a press conference to denounce it.
“We’ve known that there is a culture of waste, fraud and abuse within the many layers of GSA,” Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of a House committee that oversees GSA, said in a statement. “This proves that this is a systemic problem that is rooted deeply within this organization.”