GSA Chief Resigns Following Claims of “Wasteful” Spending on Conference

April 3, 2012

Two other officials reportedly “removed,” including Robert Peck, head of Public Buildings Service.

By Tom Ichniowski
This article first appeared in Engineering News-Record

The head of the U.S. General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, resigned on April 2 and earlier removed the leader of GSA’s Public Buildings Service and another senior official from their jobs, an Obama administration official says. The shakeup was sparked by an inspector general’s report blasting GSA for “excessive and wasteful” spending and failing to follow federal contracting rules on a 2010 conference whose price tag exceeded $822,000.

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The Obama administration official said the two GSA executives removed were PBS Commissioner Robert Peck and Stephen Leeds, senior counselor to Johnson. The administration official added that a third, unnamed GSA staffer, the lead organizer of the conference, “was placed on administrative leave several weeks ago, pending further action.”

The October 2010 conference was held by PBS for its western regional offices. The meeting, which drew about 300 attendees, took place at the M Resort, near Las Vegas.

PBS is responsible for design, construction, renovations and leasing for courthouses, offices, border stations and other federal buildings. In all, it oversees 375 million sq ft of federally owned and leased space.

The controversy over the conference and departure of senior agency officials come at a time when GSA’s construction budget is under severe pressure in Congress. Its construction account was slashed to $82 million in 2011, from $892 million the year before. It was trimmed further in 2012, to $50 million.

Greg Mecher, a GSA spokesperson, said the agency is “appalled” by the findings of the April 2 report from the agency’s inspector general’s office.

The report said, “The excessive pre-conference planning, catering and other costs, as well as the luxury accommodations and overall approach, show that GSA’s planning and expenditures for the 2010 [conference] were incompatible with its obligation to be a responsible steward of the public’s money.”

The IG report, the result of a year-long probe, said a GSA acting regional administrator told conference planners to make the meeting “over the top,” so that it would be larger and better than earlier agency conferences. “Several suggestions by regional employees that costs be reined in were ignored,” the report added.

The report cites “excessive spending” on planning the conference, noting that eight pre-conference meetings cost more than $130,000, some of which went for stays at the M Resort.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on April 6, 2012.

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