GSA Threw an $800,000 Party and All You Got Was the Bill

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Martha Johnson, chief of the General Services Administration, and two of her top executives resigned today. You probably would too if you spent over $800,000 of taxpayer dollars on an extravagant "conference" off of the Las Vegas Strip. If you don't know the General Services Administration (GSA) was created to, in their words, "streamline the administrative work of the federal government" and it "oversees the business of the U.S. federal government."  Somehow, Johnson and her crew parlayed those tenets into a "regional meeting" in Henderson, Nevada (having the discretion to not be at a hotel on The Strip--that's a modicum of modesty right?).

Thanks to an investigation and report from GSA Inspector General Brian D. Miller, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press, we now know how Johnson and her team spent all that money. Here's how it breaks down (keep in mind that in 2010, according to Inspector Miller's report,  the meal and incidental expenses allowance was $71 per day):

  • $31,000 on a "networking reception" that featured $19-per-person "American artisanal cheese display" and $7,000 in sushi
  • $3,200 on a session with a mind reader
  • $5,600 for in-room parties  
  • $100,405.37 in employee travel costs to scout the event--meaning, these people returned to the Las Vegas area multiple times to visit hotels before settling on the fancy M Resort and Casino.
  •  $1,500 for "Boursin scalloped potato with Barolo wine-braised short ribs" and a $525 bartender fee for a cash bar. 
  • Three officials spent almost $400 for rented tuxedos
  • $1,840 for vests for the 19 “regional ambassadors” and other employees
  • $146,527.05  was spent on catered food during the entire conference
  • $6,325 was spent on commemorative coins in velvet boxes to reward all participants for their work on stimulus projects (because a certificate and the $800,000 party they're at wouldn't do)
  • $75,000 for a “team-building” exercise — the goal was to build bicycles (which would later be donated to a Boys & Girls Clubs)

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More details can be found here, here, and here

But, we felt this one deserves a special shoutout: "Another agency employee sought a discount on a $98 purse from the hotel gift shop. She received a $30 break," reported the AP.  Because hey,  when you're making it rain with $7,000 sushi, who has $98 dollars to spend on a tacky gift shop purse?  

According to The Washington Post, Obama is upset with Johnson's attempted recreation of The Hangover. The president “was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars,” White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew told The Washington Post. He added, “all those responsible to be held fully accountable.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.