GSA chief resigns following excessive spending claims

WASHINGTON – The head of the General Services Administration resigned from her post Monday, and two other officials were fired amid an investigation into excessive spending at a 2010 training conference that featured a clown, a comedian and mindreader, Federal News Radio reports.

Martha Johnson, the GSA administrator, submitted her resignation on Monday, citing a “significant mis-step” at the agency to the tune of more than $800,000. Robert Peck, the commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, and Stephen Leeds, Johnson’s senior counselor, also resigned.

This story was first reported by The Washington Post.

Johnson will be replaced by Dan Tangherlini, an assistant secretary for the Treasury Department and former D.C. city administrator, according to Jason Miller, executive editor at Federal News Radio. Tangherlini announced his decision to leave the D.C. government in May 2009.

Four other GSA employees who helped plan the conference are on administrative leave.

In her resignation letter to GSA obtained by Federal News Radio, Johnson says the agency has “made a significant mis-step.”

“Reports of an internal conference in which taxpayer dollars were squandered led me to launch internal reviews, take disciplinary personnel action, and institute tough new controls to ensure this incident is not repeated,” she writes.

Johnson adds that she must step aside so “the Agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team.”

The full text of her letter is available below.

The resignations were announced the same day the agency’s Office of the Inspector General released an extended study of the October 2011 conference at a luxury hotel near Las Vegas, which cost $835,000. Roughly 300 employees attended.

Expenses included $147,000 in airfare and lodging for six planning trips for the organizers.

“The OIG found that many of the expenditures on this conferences were excessive and wasteful,” the report states. “In many instances GSA followed neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending.”

OIG recommends holding “senior GSA officials responsible” for the excessive spending, revamping accounting procedures and trying to recover the expenditures.

The report includes a memo from Johnson, outlining her response to OIG’s claims.

Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff and former director of the Office of Management and Budget, said President Barack Obama was “outraged” by the reported spending, according to Federal News Radio.

“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,” Lew says in a statement. “The President was informed before his trip to South Korea, and he was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars.”

“He called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as President,” says Lew.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., told WTOP it’s not the amount of money spent that concerns him, but rather the public perception of how it was misspent.

“Whenever something like this comes up, it just infuriates the American voter,” he says. “It’s just tragic that this kind of thing happens. It just makes people more cynical about government and they just feel that their tax money is not wisely spent.”

Bartlett says Johnson did the right thing by resigning from her job.

“I’m sure she’s sorry that it happened and we’re sorry that it happened, but this kind of thing happens far too often in government,” he says.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, describes GSA’s reported expenditures as “a gross abuse of taxpayer dollars and a breach of public trust.”

“Although I am encouraged that swift action was taken to hold officials accountable, I have also requested an immediate briefing from GSA’s Inspector General on the report,” he says in a statement.

GSA is responsible for overseeing office space and supplies, transportation and management tasks.

This story will update. Stay with WTOP for more.

WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report. Follow PaulWTOP on Twitter.

Martha Johnson Resignation Letter

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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