GSA interns live high on the taxpayer dime, too

You’ll be glad to know the embattled General Services Administration doesn’t just provide lavish parties and junkets for senior bureaucrats.  No, a great deal of your money was “re-distributed” to GSA interns, as well.

Rep. John Mica (R-FL), whose Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been casting a gimlet eye over the remarkable infrastructure of the GSA, issued a press release describing the “week-long conference for GSA interns at a luxurious Palm Springs resort.”

According to information from the GSA Inspector General and interviews with GSA employees, the May 10-14, 2010 intern conference at the Palm Springs Riviera Resort and Spa included approximately 120 interns and 20 GSA Region 9 executives.

The five-day event included a catered awards ceremony, at an estimated $75 to $100 per person, which wouldn’t count against the $71/day employee per diem for meals, because GSA called the food “light refreshments.”

Some who attended the conference also reportedly stayed in suites (which the resort’s website describes as “opulent”).

Let’s hear some more about how that “light refreshment” exemption works!  From a transcript of the Inspector General’s office interviewing a GSA official:

GSA employee: Yeah. So I asked after the intern conference because I — I was thinking about how much it must have cost for that stand-up finger food award thing. And it was –

IG’s office: I’m sorry. Which conference are we talking about?

GSA employee: Intern conference.

IG’s office: The intern conference.

IG’s office: Okay. Thank you.

GSA employee: And I estimated out of my mind that they spent $100 a person on finger food, and nobody had to deduct it off of their voucher. Nobody had to deduct it. And we spent $100 probably per person on finger food.

IG’s office: Because it wasn’t considered a meal?

GSA employee: Yeah.

IG’s office: When you call it light refreshments.

GSA employee: You call it light refreshments. They had pasta. How do you eat pasta with your fingers?

IG’s office: Yeah.

GSA employee: They had a carver. How do you pick up prime rib with your fingers? They had oysters on the half shell. Yeah, you can pick them up, but why are we eating that?…

From these interviews, we also learn that “some GSA officials apparently tried to disguise the location of the intern conference, as well as the subsequent Las Vegas conference, by citing a different, less well-known location for the event in records relating to expenditures.”

Rep. Mica is not impressed by the clever tactics deployed to conceal these outrageous expenses, declaring that the GSA “has been spreading the taxpayers’ wealth, providing luxurious junkets not only for high-level executives but for its interns as well… Interns in Congressional offices often work out of small storage areas or spaces cleared out in a hallway.  They do not get sent to resorts and spas for a week on the taxpayers’ dime.”

Adds Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee: “The extent of waste and misuse of taxpayer dollars by GSA appears to have no end.”