GSA shakeup highlights spending scrutiny

The shakeup at the General Services Administration that ended with the ouster of two top officials and the resignation of the agency's administrator over flagrant overspending and violations of contracting laws has brought new attention to agency spending.

“My agency will not go anywhere near Las Vegas, because it is afraid of what the public might think of a government agency visiting 'sin town', let alone abusing funds there,” wrote an FCW reader using the name “Fed Officer” in a comment to the original story.

The incident "won't bode well for those arguing the federal government spends taxpayer money carefully," wrote Harry Bradford in the Huffington Post. "Those defenders certainly face an uphill battle in getting their point across. As of last summer, the federal government was listed as the most hated industry in America by Gallup."

An inspector general report published April 2 detailed the abuses, which were connected to the Western Regions Conference held in Las Vegas in October 2010. The conference cost more than $822,000, but much of that money was spent unnecessarily, lavishly and frivolously, on such things as an expensive reception, frequent “planning trips” to Las Vegas in advance of the conference and entertainment, the IG found.

Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said the money spent on the conference might seem trivial compared to the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but it's important all the same.

“This is exactly what’s wrong with the government,” he said. “Every penny of taxpayer funds should be for a specific purpose that furthers the public’s interest. The waste of over $800,000 is embarrassing and should be a jobs killer for those who were involved and didn’t question the egregious spending. This is another rough patch for GSA, but hopefully it can get on the right track as new leadership steadies this important federal agency."

Before the report was released, Administrator Martha Johnson fired Robert Peck, commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, and  her adviser Stephen Leeds, according to published accounts, then resigned herself.

Many of the abuses the IG detailed happened before Johnson was confirmed as administrator in April 2010. Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, was one of several who defended her performance.

“Martha Johnson has been an effective public servant for many years,” Stier said. “Her work has helped deliver important services for the government and taxpayers. I am sorry to see this incident mar what has been an otherwise terrific record.”

For more reaction, see our sister publication Washington Technology's story: click here.

About the Authors

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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