There have been some further developments in the incredible saga of the General Services Administration’s lavish 2010 Western Regional Conference in Las Vegas, where high-living government bureaucrats threw themselves a million-dollar party at taxpayer expense:
One top bureaucrat who missed the big party was Martha Johnson, who at the time was Administrator of the GSA. Why couldn’t she make it? Based on testimony given to the Inspector General by regional administrator Jeff Neely, it was because Johnson was in California to attend meetings at… Solyndra.
Why was she there? According to ABC News, which got a look at transcripts of the IG’s interview with Neely, it was because “the Department of Energy was working to help enable GSA to purchase Solyndra solar panels for rooftops of federal buildings, which some critics believed was an attempt to prop up the doomed company with more federal money.”
The GSA blew another $3500 setting up a video conference to put Johnson in touch with some of her assistants. Neely said he explained to agency honchos that “I had some concerns about this because we were spending $3,500.00 to save $1,500.00 in travel.”
That sounds like the kind of sourpuss killjoy talk that gets you laughed out of the room at a high-rolling federal agency nowadays. As ABC reminds us, the GSA blew thousands of dollars on “items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown” for their big party. Who wants to hear some penny-pincher grouse about the cost of Winning The Future via teleconferencing?
ABC relays that a GSA spokesman claimed their top Administrator didn’t have meetings at Solyndra on the day in question, but “was unable to explain where Johnson was during the conference.” That should make us all feel better.
Johnson resigned when details of the conference – known to the Obama White House since May 2011, but kept quiet until last week – began to emerge. Her replacement, Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, posted a video message to his employees on Tuesday, calling the big Vegas party “completely unacceptable,” and a violation of “common sense, the spirit of public service, and the trust taxpayers have placed in all of us.”
He also pointed out that “GSA creates and manages the rules and regulations governing travel and conferences,” making it particularly egregious to find its top management slouched in the corner of a Vegas hotel suite with lampshades on their heads and plates of $20 cheese in their laps.
This is a real change in attitude for the GSA, because they certainly didn’t think their party violated any rules at the time. In fact, fifty of the bureaucrats who arranged the party were given cash rewards of $500 to $1,000 each “for their work in wasting the better part of a million dollars,” as Rep. John Mica (R-FL) put it.
Fox News relates Mica “also revealed Tuesday that one high-ranking official spent an extra night in Vegas at taxpayer expense, even though the conference was already over.” He apparently covered part of the cost out of his own pocket. $93 worth, to be exact. The room cost $1,000 a night.
You may be relieved to learn that the GSA has decided not to hold its next conference in Vegas. They did have a considerably more modest Vegas hotel reserved for it, but in light of the Western Regional Conference scandal, they decided to cancel the reservation. No word on whether we’ll be getting our deposit back.
What was this conference going to be about? The Washington Post tells us it’s called “GreenUP 2012: Training Conference and Vendor Showcase,” and would “bring contractors and GSA workers together to learn about eco-friendly products and services, from plug-in cars to green paper products.”
That sounds like a great use of our children’s money, borrowed to cover the titanic expenses of the most bankrupt government in world history! At this point, if you hear anybody in the Obama Administration so much as say the word “green,” it would be wise to fall on your wallet and assume a protective crouch. And the next time the President tells you that it’s impossible to cut a single penny from his trillion-dollar deficits without taking cops off the street, do your duty as an American and laugh him off the stage. You already paid for a clown act in Vegas.