GSA's leader steps down over wasteful spending report

Martha Johnson, administrator of the General Services Administration, resigned April 2 after an investigation found agency officials had wasted money on a training conference.

 The IG's office released its report on the Western Regions 2010 conference late on April 2. According to the report, the conference cost more than $822,000. The expenses included multiple "planning trips" and "test runs" in which GSA employees stayed at the luxury hotel where the conference took place in October; various violations of contracting rules, including telling a contractor the maximum budget for a training exercise -- $75,000 -- and then paying that amount; and a lavish reception costing $31,208. 

Also out:  Robert Peck, commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, and Johnson's adviser Stephen Leeds, who served briefly as acting GSA administrator in 2009 and 2010, while Johnson was going through the confirmation process. Johnson fired both men before submitting her own resignation, the Washington Business Journal reported.

In her resignation letter, Johnson said GSA had made "a significant misstep" and explained her decision to step down in the wake of an internal probe.

"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 wrote. "In addition, I feel I must step aside as administrator so that the agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team."

Some observers noted that Johnson, who was confirmed in April 2010, had been in office only a few months before the conference took place and it is not likely that she played a role in the planning.

"When you come into an organization as complex and big as GSA, there are a lot of things in motion when you get there," said Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting and former Commissioner of the Federal Technology Service at GSA. "There are a lot of moving parts. I don't think it's reasonable to think she came in in April or May and was down to managing things on the conference planning level in the Public Buildings Service."

Indeed, many of the abuses associated with the planning process and documented in the report took place in 2009.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) issued a statement calling the debacle "a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars" and added that the  "people responsible for it should be held accountable."

Procurement attorney Jonathan Aronie, a partner in the government contracting group at Sheppard Mullin law firm in Washington D.C., said that the broader effects of the IG report and the resignations are likely to be minimal, because the spending abuses are egregious.

“I find that big issues actually have a different type of impact that the issues that are in everyone else's sphere of reality," he said. "When I’m trying to give a compliance course to a client, I don’t use a big, extravagant case as my example. Something like this, people will look at it and say, ‘we don’t do stuff like that.’ The things that have a big impact are the things people look at and say, ‘Oh, I've done things like that before.’”

Woods said the situation reflects bad timing.

“Given some of the guidance the agencies have received on spending, this is bad timing,” Woods said. “The lesson is that you have to worry about, and manage, perceptions. Someone was not paying attention to the details.”

At the same time, he was sympathetic to the people who are being harshly judged in hindsight.

“These are people who, for the most part, want to do well for the public. They are dedicated and passionate, and this stuff is judged in the rear-view mirror. It makes you think twice about public service,” Woods said.

GSA has tapped Dan Tangherlini, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for management, chief financial officer, and chief performance officer as acting administrator, according to published accounts.

Reader Comments

Sun, Sep 14, 2014 Roger St Louis

If Tom Ubl had the best attorneys in America, at Grayson law, why is he whining, all over the I- net, as a supposed big shot with all the political class. He lost before a jury, he lost before federal courts. In short, he was a serial loser. He never served in the military. Is he the problem, and not a solution to anything. He is a big whiner, cry baby.

Mon, Apr 9, 2012 OBX

To the person at GSA. All consciousness federal employees (there are a lot) feel your pain. According to some articles the rank and file at GSA tried to tell management that spending that money was not right but of course they were not listened to. I think all federal workers should take a sick day at the same time and then see what happens when folks can't get the things they want and need done. Yes, in the private sector there are also folks who don't work as hard as others or game the system or have friends in high place,s but you don't here about those. Also, you don't hear about the federal workers who work 10, 12 15 hour days to accomplish a mission, any mission, we go about our day in spite of the idiots they have in management, doing our jobs with little or no fan fare. I for one am sick and tired of fed bashing so the heck with all of you and I am going to retire and enjoy my larger than life, over-the-top pension ha-ha-ha.

Sat, Apr 7, 2012 Tom Ubl

Just in the beltway there is an estimated $5 billion in fraud being committed via the GSA every year. The GSA contracts program is used to park and preserve expiring funds, its used to negate the requirement for competition, the GSA MAS program is responsible for the 4th circuit rolling back the false claims act to the 1986 rule that government knowledge was defense for fraud. I met with Emily Murphy and Roger when she was being investigated with Safavian. The GSA has been provided a road map to fix the shenanigans once and for wall, but then how would clever politicians and bureaucrats play games with employment count and siphoning contract dollars off to PAC's? IT IS HIGH TIME TO ELIMINATE THE INDUSTRIAL FUNDING FEE AND TO MAKE THIS AGENCY RUN LEAN. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN FASA AND CICA ARE TOTED MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ECONOMY ACT. So now that Martha and Dan Gordon is gone I guess Obama has sanitized any potential blow back on him for his order to implement FSSI at the cost of 30,000 jobs. PEOPLE GET THE GOVERNMENT THEY DESERVE

Sat, Apr 7, 2012 Tom Ubl

I was a former founding chair from industry on the GSA's Industry government Council. First Dan Gordon left OMB and now Johnson leaves GSA. What the media will not tell you is that Obama had both Gordon and Johnson implement the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) that is in the process of taking away GSA Schedule contracts from 3,000 companies that already have vetted GSA Schedules, which will result in approximately 30,000 jobs being sent to the unemployment line. The formation of GSA internal BPA's that then direct all agencies and activities to only use the select contractors within the BPA and not the other schedule holders violates FAR 6.102d3.

Fri, Apr 6, 2012

Seems like there are a lot of "pots" calling the GSA "kettle" black.

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