GSA's Chief Steps Down Over Costly Conference

Martha Johnson, administrator of the General Services Administration, resigned Monday, and two top officials of the agency that manages 9,600 federal buildings reportedly were fired ahead of a critical inspector general's report. A newly released video then sparked more outrage.

The resigation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson on Monday mushroomed into a bigger story April 6 when a video surfaced of a GSA staffer singing playfully about the fun of running up excessive expenses at the conference that brought Johnson down, two years into her job. Two others near the top of the agency were fired on the same day she left, according to a Washington Post report, which said the cause was a stinging report issued later the same day by GSA's inspector general, Brian D. Miller. It concerns an Oct. 25-29, 2010, GSA Western Regions Conference attended by about 300 people -- some were employees of GSA contractors -- at a cost of $822,751.

The video was released by Miller's office to U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Government Oversight Committee.

The two who reportedly were fired are Robert Peck, chief of GSA's Public Buildings Service, and Stephen Leeds, whose title was senior counselor to the administrator.

The report says GSA's spending on conference planning alone was $100,405.37, which the report calls "excessive, wasteful, and in some cases impermissible." GSA employees made two "scouting trips," five off-site planning meetings, and a "dry run" before the conference took place at the M Resort Spa Casino near Las Vegas, and six of those pre-conference outings took place at the M Resort itself, the report states.

An appendix included in the report is Johnson's response to its findings. She accepts them, outlines new policies she has ordered to prevent such overspending from recurring, and states that she has ordered that no future Public Buildings Service Western Regions Conferences take place.

Catered food and beverages during the event cost $146,527.05. Miscellaneous expenses included mementos for attendees, purchases of clothing for GSA employees, and tuxedo rentals, it states.

"GSA's approach to the conference indicates that minimizing expenses was not a goal," it says dryly. GSA created an internal website with information about the conference, including photos and videos of events that took place; the site was taken down March 23, 2012, Miller's report states.

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