Martha Johnson Resigns: Details On the $820,000 Conference

By | April 9, 2012

By now you’ve heard about a department that almost no one had ever head of (the GSA) spending over $800,000 on a conference that included clowns and a mind reader.  But it doesn’t take too much brain power to realize that for so much money to be spent, there had to be more at play.  This Bill O’Reilly video is a great way to get the ball rolling and serves as a quick peek at where all the money went.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kh1Wu9L07d4

This piece in the Washington Post goes into further detail:

“As the agency Congress has entrusted with developing the rules followed by other federal agencies for conferences, GSA has a special responsibility to set an example, and that did not occur here,” Miller wrote.

The agency “followed neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending,” giving preference to favored contractors, for example, he wrote.

An example of this is below.

The GSA also failed to follow regulations on the use of contractors for the conference, promising, for example, the hotel an additional $41,480 in catering charges in exchange for the hotel lowering its lodging cost to honor the government’s limit on room prices.

The government has limits on how much it will pay for federal employees to stay in hotel rooms.  Apparently, the GSA wanted their conference to be in THIS particular hotel, but they also wanted the government to pay for it.  From the looks of things, the hotel could not rent out the rooms for what the GSA was allowed to spend.  To get around this, they promised the hotel that they would make up the money in catering fees to the tune of the above mentioned $41,480.  For those familiar with the lingo, this is called “making it up on the back end”.

Among the “excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissable” spending the inspector general documented: $5,600 for three semi-private catered in-room parties and $44 per person daily breakfasts; $75,000 for a “team-building” exercise — the goal was to build a bicycle; $146,000 on catered food and drinks; and $6,325 on commemorative coins in velvet boxes to reward all participants for their work on stimulus projects. The $31,208 “networking” reception featured a $19-per-person artisanal cheese display and $7,000 of sushi. At the conference’s closing-night dinner, employees received “yearbooks” with their pictures, at a cost of $8,130.

This humble author has no explanation for $8,130 in “yearbooks”.  But as one can see, a lot of (our) money was spent on useless swag.

Probably one of the most disturbing details is this:  The GSA sent a total of 31 employees on six trips to scout out the party location.  Those six trips cost $130,000.  That’s $130,000 just to find out where to hold their over the top party.  When you’re wasting money BEFORE you’re wasting money, you’ve got a problem.  And that problem is exactly what forced Martha Johnson to resign.

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