Dan Tangherlini, the Treasury Department’s chief financial officer and the assistant secretary for management, will serve as the acting GSA administrator, a GSA spokesman confirmed to Federal News Radio on Monday.
IG report faults ‘over the top’ spending
GSA spent a total of nearly $823,000 on the training conference, according to the IG report, which details “excessive, wasteful, and in some cases impermissible” spending and improper procurement practices.
The agency spent $130,000, alone, to plan the conference, including travel costs, catered meals and the cost of a pre-planned “dry run.”
GSA spent more than $146,000 on catered food, including meals for semi-private parties held in individual hotel rooms.
Meal expenses exceeded per diem limits, the report noted.
GSA also spent about $6,300 on commemorative Recovery Act coins housed in velvet boxes and $75,000 on a bicycle-building training exercise.
The IG report faults an “over-the-top” philosophy toward spending that was cultivated by conference planners.
While federal regulations emphasize minimizing costs in conference planning, the evidence uncovered by the IG “showed the goal was not to minimize costs, but to be ‘over the top.'”
GSA also failed to follow contracting regulations in many of the procurements associated with the conference, the report found. That includes violations of small-business set-asides, failing to publish solicitations on the Federal Business Opportunities website and improperly disclosing bids to competing contractors.
Johnson said when she learned of the conference at which “taxpayer dollars were squandered,” she launched an internal review, took disciplinary action and instituted new controls to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
“In addition, I feel I must step aside as administrator so that the agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team,” Johnson wrote in the resignation letter.
The report has been a year in the making, after GSA Deputy Administrator Susan Brita asked the office to look into allegations of waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds.
The IG report, among its slew of recommendations, said senior GSA officials should be held responsible for excessive conference spending.
According to the GSA spokesman, Johnson fired Peck and Leeds before offering her resignation. In addition, GSA has canceled all future Western Regions Conferences, will require mandatory annual training on conference planning and is “exploring every opportunity” to recover lost funds.
In a statement, Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff, said President Barack Obama was “outraged” by the excessive spending, when he first learned of it last month.
“When the White House was informed of the inspector general’s findings, we acted quickly to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Lew said. The President “called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as President.”
Similarly, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle announced their displeasure
“This report reveals what appears to be a gross abuse of taxpayer dollars and a breach of public trust,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The chairman of the committee, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said the agency’s behavior is hypocritical because Obama once chided private companies about wasting money on Las Vegas conventions. The IGs findings are “indicative of the waste that exists in a bloated federal government,” Issa added.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.