Has the General Services Administration (GSA) become the Gravy boat for Spending without Accountability?
Not really, but this is the question in back of the minds of many observers in light of the resignation of President Obama's GSA administrator, Martha Johnson, on Monday after it was revealed by a GSA Inspector General Report that the GSA had spent close to $1 million in taxpayer money on its Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas.
The GSA is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies. The GSA supplies products and communications for U.S. government offices, provides transportation and office space to federal employees, and develops government-wide cost-minimizing policies, and other management tasks.
“Many of the expenditures on this conference were excessive and wasteful and in many instances GSA followed neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending,” said the report.
This fiscal fiasco may be a crucial weapon in the GOP bid to make Barack Obama a one-term president. This mistake is a perfect correlation between the GOP’s plank on cutting wasteful government spending and installing fiscal responsibility within the federal government. Martha Johnson was nominated by Obama and was confirmed by a Democratic-led Senate as the first permanent GSA administrator.
This scandal has stirred up controversy because of the apparent and frivolous misuse of public funds by the GSA. The Western Regions Conference – the source of the controversy in question – cost taxpayers a total of $823,000 – which paid for 300 West Coast GSA employees to attend the conference while staying at the lavish M Resort and Casino located just south of Las Vegas.
The conference cost $130,000 due to travel expenses incurred by the GSA for six planning trips. The GSA spent $2,000 on a party in a loft suite – a direct violation of federal limits on conference spending – and a $31,208 reception that included a clown and mind reader.
It’s no surprise that Johnson resigned the day that the Inspector General’s report came out.
What’s so damaging about this resignation is that during Johnson’s confirmation process, the Obama administration went out of their way to praise her as a the best choice to be GSA Administrator.
In 2009 Obama complained about the GOP’s refusal to confirm Johnson, saying that, “I don't have a GSA administrator, even though I nominated somebody who was well-qualified several months ago, and nobody can tell me that there's anything particularly wrong with her…blocking her because of some unrelated matter ... that has to end. It has to end. And the American people want it to end.”
Dan Pfeiffer, the White House Communications Director, said this of Johnson in 2009: “Martha Johnson is an ideal candidate for administrator, which is highlighted by the unanimous vote she received in committee.”
Johnson worked in the GSA between 1996 and 2000 as part of the Clinton administration – which led her to become a part of the transition team for the GSA when President Obama took office in 2009. This fact may help pave the road for the GOP to attack Obama and the Democrats by scaling up the reach of this scandal in the coming election.
This conference may not be the end of this fiasco, as Congressman John Mica (R-Fla), chairman of the of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has promised that Congress will conduct “a full hearing on this and other matters, trying to hold GSA accountable for taxpayer waste and inefficiency” as he feels that “[t]he Las Vegas fiasco is just the tip of the iceberg.”
What does this all mean for Obama and the Democrats this fall? This scandal has given the GOP a strong tool to wield against them in the coming election – especially for the GOP senators who held up the confirmation of Johnson. This scandal of government waste will play into the hands of GOP rhetoric and platform on cutting wasteful spending by the Obama administration and against the Democratic Party’s so-called “one-party rule” during the two years before the GOP swept the 2010 General Elections.
But the fodder presented in this article and others may be just “the tip of the iceberg,” as the congressional investigation could provide more ammunition to bring an end to the Obama presidency and the Democrats’ hope of returning to power this fall.