But 11 months before that, GSA’s public building services office held a conference for
300 people just outside Las Vegas that cost almost $823,000, according to the agency’s inspector general. The location was the Henderson, Nev., M Resort Spa Casino, which declares itself “a fusion of modern architecture and classic glamour.”
Perhaps it was too much glamour for a federal agency tasked with saving taxpayer money. Unfortunately, news of the conference is more ammunition for those who find sport in dumping on federal bureaucrats and generally tarring federal employees in the process.
And it shows that not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
But a quick, strong response by the Obama administration demonstrates that it will not tolerate the conference niceties that would be no big deal in the private sector.
The inspector general’s report cost GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson and two other top officials their jobs — even before the document was released Monday. Dan Tangherlini, who held the lengthy title of assistant Treasury secretary for management, chief financial officer and chief performance officer, was named acting GSA administrator. He’ll need all the skills implied by his Treasury gigs to set GSA straight.
Now Lew has issued another statement, this one in his role as President Obama’s chief of staff. Obama “was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars,” Lew said. “He 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.”
As a result of the report, GSA’s leadership lost Obama’s confidence. Johnson held herself responsible, with no White House argument to the contrary, and quit. Robert A. Peck, the public buildings service boss, and Stephen R. Leeds, Johnson’s senior counselor, were fired. The person who actually organized the conference was placed on leave, along with three other civil servants, pending further disciplinary action. That means those people could be fired as soon as regulations allow.
This is a huge shake-up for the GSA, which is supposed to show the way.
“As the agency Congress has entrusted with developing the rules followed by other federal agencies for conferences, GSA has a special responsibility to set an example, and that did not occur here,” says the report by Inspector General Brian D. Miller.
The title of his probe, “Management Deficiency Report,” sums up why Johnson and the others had to go. But the bland title gives no hint to the juicy details.
●Commemorative coins distributed at a reception can’t be “justified as either an award ceremony or light refreshments, based either on the nature of the event or the amount spent — over $100 per person.”