While the congress searches for ways to control run-away federal spending, employees at the General Services Administration (GSA) apparently didn’t get the memo.
Martha Johnson, GSA chief of staff, was appointed by President Obama to curb the department’s existing culture of excess. Monday, Johnson resigned after it was discovered her department threw an $822, 000 “training” bash in Las Vegas at taxpayer’s expense. The lavish event included a clown, mentalist and a $75,000 “team building” exercise. GSA employees reportedly made multiple "planning trips" and "test runs" to Las Vegas staying at luxury hotels including the one where the conference was held in October – all at taxpayers’ expense.
A wide array of bizarre violations were cited in an IG report including GSA employees informing a favored contractor of the maximum budget amount after revealing to him the amount of a competitor’s bid. The contractor was then paid the full $75,000. GSA also threw a $31,000 lavish reception to the event. GSA agents failed to follow even the most basic government procurement rules, according to the report.
Johnson fired Robert Peck, commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, and her own adviser, Stephen Leeds, who was acting GSA administrator for brief periods in 2009 and 2010, while Johnson was going through the confirmation process before she resigned.
A few of the lavish items listed in the IG report include procurement of a luxury hotel, a $3,200 mind reader, $6,300 worth of commemorative coin sets, and the $75,000 training exercise during which attendees tried to build a bicycle. The airfare and lodging for six “planning trips” for the event cost around $147,000.
During the Clinton administration Johnson served in both the Commerce Department as an assistant deputy secretary and at the GSA, where she was chief of staff.
She also was in the private sector where she worked as a consultant and headhunter for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
In 2010, Johnson said, “Ethics "is a big issue for me," 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."