What happened in Vegas cost Johnson her job

Media reaction to Martha Johnson's departure from GSA ranged from savage to irreverent.

The resignation of Martha Johnson as administrator of the General Services Administration seemed to take everyone by surprise. But the news spread rapidly, and within hours, the GSA inspector general released the report that had prompted her resignation.

Johnson was yet another public official caught in a spending scandal — in this case, a conference in Las Vegas that racked up more than $800,000 in costs, much of it excessive or frivolous and some of it in flagrant violation of contracting rules, according to the IG.

However, some questioned whether Johnson should bear so much of the blame. Most of the planning for the 2010 Western Regions Conference took place in 2009, long before Johnson became administrator in April 2010, as noted by consultant and former GSA official Bob Woods in FCW.com’s coverage. Johnson took two other top GSA leaders with her, firing Public Buildings Service Commissioner Robert Peck and her senior adviser and former acting GSA administrator Stephen Leeds.

Nevertheless, even Woods tempered his support, saying Johnson didn't do enough after the fact to limit the damage. GSA officials posting photos of Peck's luxury hotel suite struck Woods as adding insult to injury. It "makes me wonder whether the judgment button was in the off position," he said.

Most news reports pinned a lot of the blame on Johnson. That was certainly the case with Bill O’Reilly’s opinion piece on FoxNews.com.

"Somehow Martha managed to spend an incredible $820,000 for a conference outside of Las Vegas," O'Reilly wrote before tallying up the most egregious expenses, which included $130,000 spent to "scout" the conference hotel. "Apparently, Martha's advance team had to travel to Vegas six times to get a handle on where was best to discuss GSA business. Somebody had to do it.”

Taking a more irreverent tack, Cristina Silva at the Associated Press suggested that GSA doesn’t know how to spend with style. “Extravagant, yes, but not in the league of high rollers, who are treated to private gambling saloons and $425 tasting menus at the city's swankiest restaurants," Silva wrote.

For her article, she contacted Steven Striker, president of Striker VIP, a luxury concierge service in Las Vegas. He said federal employees could have gotten more for their money. His customers "rent out nightclubs and restaurants for private parties and commandeer helicopters and fighter jets for flights across the desert. A private dinner with a celebrity chef starts at $250 per guest.”

And at RecordNet.com, an unsigned editorial said: “The conference, held just outside Las Vegas, included a mind reader, a clown and a comedian. Johnson should have listened more closely to the mind reader because nobody — least of all the taxpayers — is laughing now.”

More outrage came a few days later when videos surfaced in which GSA employees made fun of excessive spending and the IG’s office. Dana Bash reported on CNN that the videos and similar materials were hosted on an internal GSA website, which was apparently taken down after the scandal erupted.

But not everyone was mocking GSA or outraged by the IG's report.

The affair was much ado about not much, wrote Mark Heschmeyer, in an article for the CoStar Group. The group is an information provider for the commercial real estate industry, which is interested because the scandal involves the component of GSA that manages federal property.

Heschmeyer quoted several sources who said the amount of money involved was trivial and chalked the brouhaha up to election-year politics. For example, the article quotes John Kyle, senior vice president of Cresa Washington DC, defending Peck as “an outstanding public servant whom I have known and respected for many years” and saying Peck has now been “sacked, dishonored and disgraced.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.