After the conference, GSA employees created an internal Web site that featured photos and videos of the conference highlights. It was not taken down until last week.
Managers ignored several warnings from employees to tone things down, the inspector general said.
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.
The report also found “redundant and wasteful” practices that included hiring outside event planners when the agency already had an event planning staff.
GSA spokesman Greg Mecher said the agency “is appalled’’ by the inspector general’s findings and will consider disciplinary action against other employees if it is warranted. He pledged fast changes to accounting procedures and increased oversight over conference planners and contractors. Employees will be required to take mandatory training in conference planning. Travel budgets for several regional offices have been reduced, and future “Western Region” conferences have been canceled.
Obama tapped Johnson to lead GSA in June 2009 and, after waiting eight months for Senate confirmation, she took the oath of office by telephone from her Annapolis home in February 2010 during a blizzard. During a February 2010 interview, Johnson said she intended to run the agency as ethically as possible after years of scandal during the Bush administration.
Ethics “is a big issue for me,” she said at the time, adding that “it’s right and it’s good business” to be a “responsible steward of taxpayer dollars” because “they’re trusting you with their pocketbooks.”
She once served as an executive recruiter for the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company and most recently was a senior vice president at the Computer Sciences Corp. She served stints at the GSA and the Commerce Department during the Clinton administration.
Staff writers Ed O’Keefe, Jonathan O’Connell, Timothy R. Smith and Eric Yoder contributed to this report.