The chief of the General Services Administration is resigning and two of her top deputies have been fired amid reports of excessive spending at a training conference at a luxury hotel that featured a mindreader, a clown and a comedian.
GSA Administrator Martha Johnson submitted her resignation to the White House on Monday. Public Buildings Service chief Robert A. Peck and Johnson’s top adviser, Stephen Leeds, were forced out Monday, White House officials said. Four GSA employees who organized the four-day conference have been placed on adminstrative leave pending further action.
The resignations come as the agency’s inspector general prepares to release a scathing report on the training conference, held at a luxury hotel outside Las Vegas in October 2010.
Organizers spent $835,000 on the event, which was attended by 300 employees. The expenses included $147,000 in airfare and lodging at the hotel for six planning trips by a team of organizers. Among the other expenses were $3,200 for a mind reader; $6,300 on commemorative coin set displayed in velvet boxes and $75,000 on a training exercise to build a bicycle.
“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,” White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement to The Washington Post. President Obama “was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars,” Lew said, “and called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable.”
Johnson will be replaced by Dan Tangherlini, an assistant secretary in the Treasury Department and former city administrator for the District of Columbia.
GSA spokesman Greg Mecher said in a statement that the agency “is appalled’’ by the inspector general’s findings and will consider disciplinary action against other employees if it is warranted.
Accounting procedures are being revamped, and there will be more oversight over conference planners and contractors, Mecher said. All employees will be required to take mandatory training in conference planning. Travel budgets for several regional offices have been reduced, and future conferences in the western region, which hosted the Nevada event, were canceled.
“The General Services Administration has made eliminating excessive spending and promoting efficiency one of its top priorities and is taking steps to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” Mecher said.