Politics & Policy

Government Employees Gone Wild, Part II

M Resort and Casino in Las Vegas
GSA staff enjoyed their wasteful 2010 Vegas conference so much, they held another one.

Seven months after their scandalous $823,000 Las Vegas conference featuring clowns and a mind-reader, General Services Administration staffers returned to the same resort and worked with the same controversial contractor, according to newly obtained records from the office of the inspector general (OIG).

“It seems to me . . . [that] to go back to this hotel and award contracts to the same vendor is beyond ‘common and acquisition sense,’ in light of the current [Western Regional Conference] fall out,” a whistleblower wrote to federal investigators in April 2012, around the publication time of the OIG’s damning report on the 2010 Western Regional Conference.

During the subsequent conference in late May and early June 2011, taxpayers footed the cost for $50-per-gallon lemonade and $62-per-gallon gourmet coffee and tea, according to invoices reviewed by National Review Online.

Attendees also enjoyed lavish meals, including a $44-per-person Las Vegas Strip-view lunch and a $42 “Fiesta lunch buffet,” even though the GSA’s own per-diem allotment for lunch in Las Vegas was no more than $18.

The GSA’s Region 9 chose to hold the conference at M Resort Spa Casino, the same venue as the much-publicized Western Regional Conference.

“Market research was never completed,” the GSA OIG wrote in its case-closing memorandum, and the acting regional commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) later admitted to being unaware of “how or why this location was chosen, especially since there was only 1 . . . staff person based in Las Vegas,” according to a 2013 interview with an OIG agent.

Travel alone for the 21 attendees, “less cost of breakfast and lunch,” cost $17,429.89, according to a breakdown provided by the OIG.

In an apparent attempt to cover up the big spending on the resort hotel, the GSA employee who handled the M Resort Spa Casino reservation paid the bill by making several small transactions on a government credit card instead of paying it all at once, records show.

Such “split purchase” transactions, which are prohibited, are “generally intended to hide large one-time transactions . . . to circumvent the $3,500 limit on government purchase cards,” an IG interview report related to the case notes. Also, while big transactions must be reported, such so-called micro-purchases aren’t subject to the same transparency standards.

The GSA employee’s card was later confiscated, but he or she “did not receive any other discipline except verbal counseling” and “acted very non-committal without admitting any knowledge or guilt,” the Region 9 FAS deputy regional commissioner later told an OIG agent.

The 2011 conference was supposed to help with “team-building,” according to records obtained by NRO.

One employee, whose name was redacted, sent the official agenda, noting “no ties or formal wear allowed” and writing: “That’s right, no boring speeches or exhausting powerpoint training presentations. Okay — well maybe one!”

Taxpayers covered the cost of a $28,500 contract for leadership training through a company referred to under several different names, including Delta 4 and Most Valuable Performers.

At the 2010 Western Regional Conference, the same company led a controversial “team-building” bicycle-assembly project that cost taxpayers $75,000.

For the 2011 Region 9 conference, Most Valuable Performers submitted a 13-page proposal for its training activities, marked confidential and proprietary. The OIG redacted the proposal almost in its entirety, citing an exemption that covers trade secrets. The company did not respond to NRO’s inquiries about the activities that were conducted.

A report of an OIG interview with an attendee says that “although there were no magicians or bicycle-building projects . . . the same consultant who spoke at the [earlier] conference and handed out certain ‘carabiner’ souvenirs was the same consultant who spoke at the [2011] Conference and handed out the same carabiners.”

All together, the 2011 Region 9 conference cost $53,319, or $2,539 for each of the 21 attendees. In comparison, the much-publicized 2010 Western Regional Conference cost around $2,740 for each of its estimated 300 attendees.

“These actions occurred three years ago, and are not consistent with how GSA conducts business,” GSA spokeswoman Jackeline Stewart said in an e-mailed statement to NRO. “Under Administrator Dan Tangherlini’s leadership we have implemented strong policies to improve oversight and strengthen controls on any spending for conferences or travel, saving millions in taxpayers dollars. Our agency remains committed to eliminating excessive federal spending and promoting government efficiency.”

— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Jillian Kay Melchior — Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Most Popular

Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Science & Tech

Set NASA Free

The Trump administration has proposed shifting the International Space Station from a NASA-exclusive research facility to a semi-public, semi-private one. Its plan would nix all government funding for the ISS by 2025 and award at least $150 million per year to NASA to help with the transition. This would be a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More