Memories were made at the General Services Administration’s 2010 Public Buildings Service Western Regions Conference, held at the luxurious M Resort just outside of Las Vegas. So many memories, in fact, that the agency spent more than $6,400 on commemorative coins for conference participants.
Two years later, those coins -- and the rest of the more than $800,000 GSA spent on the four-day conference -- are creating the wrong kinds of memories for American taxpayers: those of an agency that preaches the values of frugal spending while simultaneously instructing its own conference planners to make an event “over the top.”
GSA Administrator Martha Johnson resigned Monday and two other agency officials -- Senior Counselor to the Administrator Stephen Leeds and PBS head Bob Peck -- were fired in advance of a damning report from the GSA inspector general calling the conference spending “excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissible.” That “over the top” instruction was real, too: A PBS Acting Regional Administrator wrote it in an email to organizers.
Pre-conference planning involved two “scouting trips,” five off-site planning meetings and a “dry run” of the event. The opening night reception included a $19-per-person “American Artisanal Cheese Display.” Participants received “yearbooks” on their last night containing photos of every conference attendee taken when they checked into the hotel.
For those of us not fortunate enough to have attended the conference or one of its planning sessions, we have compiled our own “yearbook” of the key players in the event and its aftermath. Commemorative coins not included.