GSA inspector probes $268K awards ceremony

Associated Press + More

By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The General Services Administration spent more than $268,000 on a one-day awards ceremony, an inspector general told Congress Thursday, the latest revelation of lavish government conferences on the taxpayers' tab.

In a letter Thursday to a House subcommittee, GSA Inspector General Brian D. Miller said he was investigating the Nov. 17, 2010 event in two Washington hotels that featured a drum band exercise and more than $50,000 in gifts and awards to attendees. Some of those, more than 4,000 drumsticks, cost more than $20,000.

Miller said the event was reported to him on July 11 by Dan Tangherlini, the scandalized agency's acting administrator.

"This sounds almost unbelievable to have this kind of waste reported when we are running trillions of dollars in debt," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla.

The GSA said in a statement that all spending for events had been suspended in April.

"Under the new GSA leadership, this event and type of spending is not tolerated," said agency spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara.

The new revelation comes after government watchdogs found that GSA officials in Western states went on taxpayer-financed junkets to Hawaii, South Pacific Islands and California's Napa Valley and Palm Springs, where they stayed at resort hotels and threw lavish parties. The loudest outcry was over a 2010 Las Vegas conference, which featured a clown, mind reader and a rap video making fun of the excessive spending. The event for 300 employees cost $823,000, Miller reported.

"You can see they are classing up their act, but it's still a blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars," said subcommittee chairman Jeff Denham.

In his letter to the House Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, Miller said his preliminary investigation shows the event cost more than $268,732 for the one-day ceremony, which took place at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, and a "commissioner's reception" for 200 attendees was held at the Key Bridge Marriott the same day, he reported.

Among his findings:

- $34,073 for the Crystal Gateway Marriott event, including $20,738 in catering charges;

- $7,697 for the Key Bridge Marriott reception, which included hors d'oeuvres, a violinist and guitarist;

- $104,464 for "coordination and logistical management" by a firm called Gallagher & Gallagher Inc., which included $104,484 for management services; $20,578 for 4,000 drumstick given to attendees; $5,390 for five buses, two mini-buses and a van and $10,010 for entertainment by "Mission Possible Agent X" management.

- $28,364 for 4,000 "time temperature picture frames" provided by Small Wonders;

- $7,810 for 68 shadowbox frames by Award Crafters;

- $8,588 for something called "Agent X appearance" by JDG Communications, Inc.;

- $41,735 for travel for 49 attendees.

Miller said his office is looking into the ceremony.

"It is deeply troubling to learn that more than a quarter million dollars in hard earned taxpayer money was wasted so that certain GSA employees could congratulate themselves," said Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.V., ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.