bye

General Services Administration Head Resigns Over Taxpayer-Funded Vegas Bonanza

what is an ethic?

General Services Administration head Martha Johnson and two cohorts resigned or were butt-kicked out the door Monday over some really hilarious spending habits of Our Money! What is a General Services Administration? Ms. Johnson might not have even known! No, but, well, the GSA is the “landlord” of the government, explains the news, and so it is quite something to find that this agency didn’t sit around avoiding fixing broken toilets or ousting rats from beneath the floorboards of America, or suspiciously accept payment only in cash, but instead spent taxpayer dollars on 1,000 $7 sushi rolls, a clown, hundreds of meat medallions, commemorative coins, a mindreader and some other fun at a team-building “conference” held in Las Vegas in 2010. Squirrel in headlights Johnson resigned, along with her deputies Robert A. Peck and Stephen Leeds, and four more GSA managers have been suspended. Let us tally up all the fun that was had by government employees as they drank and played trust exercises and got creeped out by a clown at the M Resort Spa Casino while we were trawling Monster.com and eating coffee grounds for breakfast!

From the government’s official investigation of this spendthrift branch of itself, the very dryly named “Management Deficiency Report,” we have these numbers:

The planning of the three-day conference itself: $100,000
24 bicycles, for a team-building (and bike-building!) exercise — WHAT?: $75,000
400 pieces of Petit Beef Wellington: $1,900
150 American Artisanal Cheese Displays ($19 each): $2,850
225 units of a Pasta Reception Station ($16 each): $3,600
Commemorative coins for each conference attendee: $6,325
Yearbooks for each conference attendee: $8,130
3 “semi-private in-room catered parties,” heh: $5,600
Commemorative canteens and carabiners: $2,781.50
Commemorative shirts: $3,749.40

Pics of the commemorative coins:

hideous

Total cost of the conference: $822,751!

Other features that either weren’t in the report, or whose costs weren’t listed:

  • A “scouting trip” to nine Las Vegas hotels a year prior to the conference
  • An additional “scouting trip,” in which five GSA employees stayed at the M Resort and the Ritz-Carlton (naturally). At the M Resort, the employees were shown to “loft suites” that they were then allowed to stay in during the event as a thank-you for contracting with the M Resort (“Loft suites have 2,400 square feet of space, two stories, multiple HD televisions and wet bars and a going rate of $1,179 per night”).
  • A comedian
  • A clown
  • A mindreader

And here is a picture of the “loft suite”!

martha!

FIN. [Talking Points Memo]

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Liz is a writer. She has written for this site, evidently, and also The Awl, The San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, The Economist and others. She is the author of a short story collection, Cover Story.

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154 comments

      1. Barb

        I was there two weeks ago and the pilot kept referring to it as "Lost Wages" I'm going back in 3 weeks and we'll have to see if they get to keep my money.

          1. Barb

            No, I am staying at THE Hotel Yes, they call it THE Hotel. It is an M-Life property, as described in Liz's article. I'm in the million dollar slot tournament.

          2. Biff

            At least they have the House of Blues there, though precious little that passes for blues ever plays there.

  1. Pragmatist2

    No hookers.
    No cocaine.
    If this was a hedge fund they would be embarrassed to turn in the expenses.

    1. Wilcoxyz

      Seriously. These folks are so pathetic they gorged on cheese, clowns and yearbooks. That's sad. Get canned for something with a pulse. Unless the clown put out. Then it's cool.

      1. SorosBot

        Wait, people would pay for a clown? I thought you'd only pay those freaky scary motherfuckers to stay the hell away from you.

    1. Generation[redacted]

      What no mime? I would put a mind reader up against a mime in a cage match.

    2. finallyhappy

      We had plenty of clowns in my office when I was a federal employee- and yet I never got a single meat medallion

    3. rickmaci

      Even the mind reader had to ask them WTF were they thinking when they came up with this boondoggle.

  2. Respitetini

    Someone forgot she worked for the Government. And now she doesn't have to remember anymore.

  3. Lascauxcaveman

    My calculator says they spent more than $3000 per bicycle.

    These people ride much better bikes than I do.

    (I could probably still kick their asses on a climb, however.)

    1. ALIVE!

      And you KNOW those were not $3,000 bikes they were assembling as a "team exercise." Someone pocketed a very nice profit margin on that. Ugh.

    2. Goonemeritus

      You probably couldn’t in this case they are motor assist models. I have ridden against them, inside their battery range they will break your will.

      1. Lascauxcaveman

        LOL, you're right. The other day on my way home I saw this lady going up the long pull to my neighborhood and she was absolutely destroying that hill. Looks like she's doing twice the speed I could on my best day. Also riding in a curiously upright position for such a hard climber, I thought. And I'm thinking, damn, I wish I had her legs.

        I'm in my car, so I pull alongside pretty quickly, and yeah, she's on an e-bike, probably praying to G_d the battery holds out.

    3. sullivanst

      I had a friend who once spent £5,000 on a bike. I think that's because a small dose of financial reality had forced him to give up the Alfa Romeo Brera concept for which I have no idea how he even found the downpayment.

  4. elviouslyqueer

    One GSA official told those planning the conference to make it “over the top.”

    Hookers? Check.
    Blow? Check.
    Pasta Reception Station? Check.

    Let's DO THIS.

  5. ProgressiveInga

    I wonder if the mind-reader foretold Martha's new employment status? If not, EPIC FAIL.

    1. Swampgas_Man

      Silly, she's a MIND-READER, not a fortune-teller! She probably said something like, "I'm drawing a blank on this one."

    1. Chichikovovich

      Totally! And if we had a mere $11,999,778,000 or so more we could wrap it up and send it to Iraq to vanish without a trace.

    1. Swampgas_Man

      Weeeell, just found out H&R Block screwed up my Direct Deposit, my Tax Refund is Jeebus-knows-where, and I have to wait another six weeks for the IRS to "investigate". I haz a Pissed Off.

  6. BigSkullF*ckingDog

    All that money spend and no hookers and blow? WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Barb

      I'm pretty sure that if you spend that kind of money there the hookers and blow are comped.

      1. BigSkullF*ckingDog

        Dammit barb, I was just about to correct my spelling!
        Also, question: if the hooker is free than isn't she really just a slut?

    2. terriblyfamous

      You can't throw a commemorative coin in Las Vegas without hitting a pile of hookers and blow.

  7. LastGasp

    "24 bicycles, for a team-building (and bike-building!) exercise: $75,000"

    From what I've read about the Federal government's creative cost reporting over the years I think the above line item should read "24 teams of hookers: $75,000"

    1. edgydrifter

      That "Get on your bikes and ride!" line from Fat Bottomed Girls suddenly makes a lot more sense.

  8. el_donaldo

    I'm loving how the investigation says that dozens of GSA employees stayed at the resort SEVEN different times as part of "conference planning." Couldn't someone have just sent a couple emails?

    1. Jus_Wonderin

      In all honestly, nothing replaces "face to face" unless, of course, it was doggie style.

    2. Geminisunmars

      What don't you understand about (government) planning? (Eww. That sounds too Tea Partyish to me. But I refuse to cancel this post.)

    3. finallyhappy

      well, normally that is how it is done but then usually the meeting place is awful so no one wants to go more than once anyway. We had our conferences and training at a place that couldn't manage to keep coffee hot and our meals would have the same frozen vegetable "medley" but one meal had soy sauce- Chinese, another meal with some tomato sauce- Italian and one meal with "cream" sauce- French. The next time, I found where the closest coffee place was(7-11) and went each day to get a cup of coffee. I made the big mistake of asking why at a conference center "catering" to the gov;t, the only yogurt was Trix? I got an earful for that

  9. Callyson

    Yearbooks for each conference attendee: $8,130

    JFC, yearbooks? Really? Why? Does anyone still have their high school yearbook? I lost mine ages ago…

    1. finallyhappy

      I do have my high school yearbook- but if I had a conference yearbook- it would be what stayed in Vegas

  10. valthemus

    Has the right already declared "This is it! This will bring the Obama administration crashing down! Scandal!! Impeachment!!" or something equally breathless and wrong?

    1. elviouslyqueer

      Oh yes, of course, and duh:

      “Employees congratulating themselves and promoting one of the most politically controversial initiatives of this Administration with taxpayer funds is indicative of the waste that exists in a bloated federal government,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

      1. Pithaughn

        But not any other kind of government right? Nothing even comes close to this level of outlandishness in say a religious theocracy in say Saudi Arabia ? Just to name one. This is the natural behavior of any government, at least here we find out, get to criticize and miracle of miracles fire the offenders sometimes!
        Had lunch today with tea party official, three times he brought this up , three times compared it to the Solyndra fiasco. Total cost of both , way less than a billion dollars. The graft of the military defense contractors does not faze him one bit though, because ….

        FREEDOMS!!

  11. fuflans

    225 units of a Pasta Reception Station ($16 each): $3,600

    is this something you eat or something berlusconi would attend?

  12. b[redact]opple

    GSA once charged us $400 to re-key the lock on a filing cabinet, so this really isn't too out of line with their conception of money.

    1. ALIVE!

      Well, they had to travel to Vegas three times to hire the locksmith, so not really excessive when you think of it.

  13. SorosBot

    Is Robert Peck related to Walter Peck of the EPA? Yes it's true; this man has no dick.

  14. MissTaken

    So I tied an onion to my belt. Which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a General Services Administration Western Regions commemorative coin, and in those days, General Services Administration Western Regions commemorative coins had pictures of birds fucking a pyramid on 'em.

  15. SheriffRoscoe

    Professional mindreader? They have such a thing? Tough gig. Even if they were correct I'd fuck with them and tell 'em they were wrong.

  16. ttommyunger

    Little-known factoid: frustrated with the limited resources of his "Plumbers" outfit, Nixon came up with the Federal Protective Service. It was to be his private police force with arrest authority (Jurisdiction derived from the participation of any state in our Federal Highway Fund Program). It initially had an initial strength of 3,300 with armed uniformed officers and armed criminal investigators. It was housed under the GSA since it was commonly accepted that it was the most political and corrupt of all the federal agencies. The promise of FPS died with Nixon's Presidency, fortunately, and it is now relegated to supervising contract security guards in and around Federal Property. I know all this because I served seven years as the Region 4 (Eight SE States) SWAT Team Commander. My boss was the late Lou Strom (sound familiar?). I could tell you some stories…..since the Statute of Limitations has run its course.

      1. ttommyunger

        As I said to another esteemed Wonketeer, wouldn't want to bore you, common criminality is crushingly banal.

      1. ttommyunger

        Never had one in my hand. Never conducted a raid. Made only one arrest in that seven years and turned him over to Atlanta PD. Deployed several times in Atlanta Metro and the 8 SE States, but not that kind of action.

  17. edgydrifter

    I see no booze on the list. You give me a clown instead of a pint of bourbon and you expect me to be motivated by that? Crazy-face Johnson, you are a failure.

  18. FlownOver

    Hey, lighten up! How can these folks manage all of USAmerica's property if they don't have some $3K bicycles to get from one warehouse to another?

    And the comedian was Louie Gohmert doing his Tea Party variation on Tony Clifton, so, well worth it.

  19. BaldarTFlagass

    Meh, we did a lot more damage than that during our semi-annual Iraq/Afghanistan Construction Program Management Reviews held in Dubai or Abu Dhabi or Qatar etc. But that was when Bush was prez and all that shit was legal.

  20. Joshua Norton

    Wassa matter. A Motel 6 in Bakersfield not good enough for them?

    They should have felt the axe blade on the back of their necks the minute "commemorative coins" made an appearance.

    1. terriblyfamous

      In what universe do you require six different commemorative items for an event?

    2. Biff

      Hey, even my notoriously cheap governmental agency put me up in the Doubletree when I had training in Bakersfield.

  21. fuflans

    The planning of the three-day conference itself: $100,000

    this doesn't seem like very good planning.

    1. bikerlaureate

      "About 300 people attended", which works out to over $21 per commemorative coin and (yikes!) $333 worth of planning for each attendee.

      Excuse me while I finish the last couple bites of my coffee grounds…

  22. BaldarTFlagass

    I just got back from a weekend in Vegas. Those prices they paid seem right in line.

  23. OneYieldRegular

    What, and not even a Tailhook-style "gauntlet"? Government Vegas scandals just aren't what they used to be.

    1. NellCote71

      Meh. If it had been a Republican team-building conference, a lot more rent boys would be involved. And toe-tapping and diaper-changing events.

  24. BlueStateLibel

    Look, it's a tough economy for employers trying to recruit and retain employees these days, and all employees expect to be treated lavishly nowadays, what do you expect?

  25. widestanceromance

    Haliburton/XE (or whatever they're calling themselves now to avoid prosecution) will offer this woman 7 figures to plan their next war crime.

  26. Steverino247

    This sounds like something the Air Force would do. GSA forgot they're not part of DoD.

  27. FakaktaSouth

    The planning of the three-day conference itself: $100,000
    3 “semi-private in-room catered parties,” heh: $5,600

    I am choosing to believe that they actually swapped these two line items to cover up the cool stuff, otherwise, these people really are assholes.

        1. Sharkey

          White House Chief of Staff Jacob J. Lew said that President Obama “was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars,” and that he "called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable."

          Sounds a little Republican to me, but I'll give it a pass.

  28. An_Outhouse

    $7 for sushi rolls is probably on the cheap side in Vegas. Someone was a smart negotiator.

  29. An_Outhouse

    Did the investigators indicate what would be an acceptable amount for this field trip?

  30. Aridzona

    Hiring a clown for a conference of government workers . . . you can't make this stuff up!

  31. Dashboard Buddha

    So that's where Miss Hathaway went. (You know, she was never the same after Granny died.)

  32. gurukalehuru

    Sure, gotta have meetings, no problem. But commemorative coins? Yearbooks? What is this, a soccer league for 9 year olds?
    Also, what the fuck is a pasta reception station?

  33. owhatever

    And it never dawned on any of that the bikes all alone might just cause a shitstorm?

  34. Schmegeg

    To save money, this even has been rescheduled for the Imperial Palace next year, with BOGOs to the car display and Hash House a Go-Go.

  35. DahBoner

    If you stay at the Strosphere and don't mind the noise of a roller coaster above your head, that loft suite is a very reasonable $89 a night…

  36. C_R_Eature

    $822,751? Amateurs!

    We went on a little "Trip" over to the North Africa in '03, only supposed to run in, do our thing and leave. Ended up spending 9 years and it cost one Trillion Dollars! And, we put it all on your credit card! Nobody got fired, We all got fucking promotions! And Rich! AHHAHAHAHAHAHA! Those GSA bozos just didn't steal big enough.
    Sincerely, The Previous Administration (Not to be Named)

    PS: And *chuckle* the best thing *chortle, snort* we conned you into believing that it would Pay for Itself! BWA HAH HAHA HAHAHAAHAH

  37. rocktonsam

    thankkk God and praise Raygun , no republican never ever participated in any thing like this lavish spending spree
    never

  38. Negropolis

    Meh. She probably saved more than $822,751 renegoitating a single lease or finding new space in an existing federally-owned office building. Hell, they could have hired some lesbian dominitrixes for all I care. Meh.

    Jus' sayin'. **yawn**

    Call me when we stop spending $100,000 per lightbulb at an Iraqi super-embassy or some shit, okay? The Pentagon frivilously burns through this kind of cash every hour.

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