GSA head resigns amid reports of lavish spending

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 2 2012 4:19 p.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — A senior government official has resigned after her agency spent lavishly at a training conference for federal workers near Las Vegas.

The White House accepted General Services Administration chief Martha Johnson's resignation after she dismissed two deputies and suspended other career federal employees over an $820,000 conference. The 300-person event at the M Resort Spa and Casino in Henderson, Nev., included $3,200 for a mind reader and $75,000 on a training exercise to build a bicycle in 2010.

"On his first day in office, President Obama made clear that the people who serve in his administration are keepers of the public trust and that public service is a privilege," White House chief of staff Jack Lew said in a statement. "He was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars."

Public Buildings Service chief Robert Peck and Johnson's top adviser, Stephen Leeds, were forced out. Four GSA employees who organized the four-day conference have been placed on administrative leave pending further action, a White House official said.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the embarrassing episode within the federal agency that oversees office space and supplies, transportation and management tasks.

The White House found out about the draft internal report in early March, and Lew and White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler investigated the conference for employees of GSA's western region.

Johnson put in place new rules to prevent future spending, such as dealings that went around bidding rules, ignored contracting requirements and questionable expenses such as tuxedo rentals.

"I fell I must step aside as administrator so that the agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team," Johnson wrote in her resignation. "Collectively, the people of GSA now must review, repair and rebuild."

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