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Apr 03, 2012


George Wilson

Let’s put part of this in perspective. The $800K spent by GSA on this boondoggle equates to;
4 Air Force-1 flying hours (less staff costs)@$135,000/hr (does not include pre-coordination visits, AF cargo planes, secret service, other visit support requirements); 4 B-2 flying hours (less bombs)@$135,000/hr; 16 F-22 flying hours (when the $400M thing flies)@$50,000/hr; 0.000005% of the F-35 cost overruns (so far)@$160 Billion; 0.0008% of the USS Gerald Ford cost overrun (so far)@$1B; 2,000 gallons of fuel delivered to Kabul@$400/gal; 8,000 lbs of Lobster Tail delivered to Afghanistan@$100/lb; 2 US Contracting or intelligence contractors in Afghanistan@$400,000/contractor
What makes this GSA event different from my example, and other wasteful spending, is that someone senior were publically held accountable and fired. Maybe it sets a new standard?
I refer back to the POGO assessment of the cost of contractors versus government employees and that contractors are more expensive. Looking at the above examples and so many, many more, I contend that government employees are much more expensive because they are the ones who make decisions that lead to all the examples of waste, fraud and abuse. An ignorant, unqualified and morally corrupt government employee far exceeds the cost of individual contractors. How could any responsible, professional federal manager or leader even consider that $75,000 for team building exercises, $116,000 for “coordination trips,” $6,000 for entertainment and all the rest was a proper expense to bill taxpayers? Of course, as others have pointed out, what GSA did was the rule and not the exception for federal managers.
BTW, one organization that did break the code on conferences was the DOD Intelligence Information Systems (DODIIS) managed by DIA. In the past they held conference in places Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco (Usually the week before spring break so families could show up and still get a government discount). In 2011 the conference was held in Detroit. I have always said that if every government conference was required to be held in Detroit or in Chicago in August or February, the conference was a necessity.

Scott Amey

I also received a call from an informed source who stated that the DoD SES'rs have been asked to pitch in personal funds for food and beverages at certain functions. From what I could take from the conversation, some of the SES'rs were unhappy about having to fund the event.


The comments about the DOE CFO are not entirely correct. The beer was not paid for by Government funds, the executives have paid for the beer on all occasions. It is true that the CFO took about 10 minutes to read the names of employees that received awards, but it was still a picnic to celebrate the awardees. Beer is served in the office on various occasions such as birthdays, but it is only done after receiving the appropriate approval.

Scott Amey

The feedback on this post is great! It’s an interesting split of “POGO’s making a mountain out of a mole hill” and “you think GSA is bad …” Let’s admit a few facts -- there are plenty of government and private sector conferences each year, and the majority of those are held in beautiful cities that are a draw for participants. I certainly can’t prove waste involving the upcoming San Diego conference, and my mention of if was due only to the release of the GSA OIG report and the hope that past infractions are not repeated. I would rather see problems corrected now than wait for two years for another scathing OIG report. Someone thought enough about the San Diego event to bring it to my attention weeks ago. I understand that conferences are useful to gain and share information and network, which can make the government more efficient. I attend two local contracting conferences each year and find them very educational and I often meet very knowledgeable people who assist my work. My real concern is who is attending and are costs mitigated because at the end of the day the taxpayer is on the hook. Is it necessary for hundreds of government employees to attend these conferences? If so, what is being done to ensure that they are participating and not there for a free vacation? The GSA Las Vegas conference sounded more like a destination wedding or other social event than anything resembling a government conference that promoted and supported GSA’s mission, and now there are more reports about conferences that are allegedly wasting taxpayer money.


Putting the issues aside, I find it incredible that the GSA IG took until 2012 to issue a report on an issue that took place in 2010. This demonstrates one of the biggest issues with IG offices. In this case, the issue was so significant that it warranted firing people and yet it took almost two years to complete the audit?! IG's measure their timeliness in terms of years rather than weeks. I work for DCAA and witnessed firsthand the downfall of DCAA due to the GAO. It took the GAO two years to issue the 2008 report and three years to issue the 2009 report. Most of those involved were retired by the time the report was issued. Then the Comptroller reassigned Director Stephenson who had nothing to do with the reports and yet she became the scapegoat for the administration. Now DCAA is far worse under Director Fitzgerald. Under Stephenson DCAA completed 30,000 audits covering over $500 billion a year and now we are lucky if we break 10,000 audits and $100 billion. Per the Wartime Commission, the backlog of annual audits will grow to over a trillion dollars (yes a trillon) by 2016. Auditors in my office used to average about 10 audits a year and now I am lucky if they complete 1 audit a year. Fitzgerald turned DCAA into the IG and we now measure audits in terms of years rather than days. POGO, please investigate the situation at DCAA. Congress critized Stephenson for running an audit production line, but under Fitzgerald were are paralyzed. Fitzgerald needs to go and we need someone who understands the value of timely contract audits. The issue is that Fitzgerald has too many layers of review while Stephenson's theory was to spend the time on the audit fieldwork with barebones documentation. The difference is better workpapers under Fitzgerald, but far worse audit coverage and in the end, significantly less oversight of contractors.


As bad as the GSA conference appears, it is not as wasteful as two other conferences that are attended by hundreds of government employees. The first is the American Society of Military Comptrollers PDI Conference. It is held annually and costs about $900 per attendee. The $900 is paid by the government as "training costs" and pays for lavish meals (no way the meal cost is under the per diem), several receptions, evening dance, meeting spaces, contractor booths, swag, etc., etc. No part of the fee is used for the speakers since most of the speakers are government employees. The second is the annual AGA (Society of Government Accountants) PDI conference. Most of the ASMC PDI attendees attend the AGA PDI conference a few months later and it is just the same. An expensive fee and the fee covers meals, meeting space, swag, etc. Most speakers are free from the government and many of the topics are the same at both conferences. Both of these conferences are a huge waste of money. The AGA conference is in July this year on the oceanfront in San Diego. POGO, please investigate both of these conferences. People think that just because the Government is not paying for the contract directly that it is OK, but the fees are outrageous given that the speakers are primarily Government employees. The government could host the same conferences directly for significantly lower costs (even by GSA standards).


If you think GSA is bad, then someone should investigate the Dept of Energy CFO. He held a picnic for the CFO Office in September on the grounds of the DOE facility in Germantown at the government's expense including paying for cases of beer. The CFO laughed when he said it was an "award ceremony" as he spent 5 minutes reading the names of employees that received awards during the year. It was clear that it was called an award ceremony so that the taxpayers would pay the costs. Not only did the taxpayers pay for the food and beer, but they also paid the employees' time for the half day picnic. Contractors also attended the picnic while on taxpayers' time including the CFO's own personal assistant. In addition, the DOE CFO gives his staff any excuse to hold a party complete with beer. The CFO office has had at least 4 birthday parties in the last 2 months all with beer, all in the CFO office in a Government building, and all on government time including a party for his personal assistant who is a contractor (yes, a contractor drinking beer while at work in a government office). Someone really needs to investigate the DOE CFO.

Jaston Montcrief

Mr. Amey.

Are you really upset about your unconfirmed report about the waste in San Diego. I thought POGO had junkyard dogs. Get some facts. POGO of all parties knows how to find government waste in the tens of billions or hundreds of billions. Come on, sir. These self same bureaucrats can do us in big time with PROGRAM actions or inactions. The admin stuff is small potatoes. If you only looked at civil servants as much as you do look at contractors, you would find far more waste for which govt employees are responsible and/or deeply implicated. Some their behaviors are criminally negligent. Go where the waste is.

Bill Harshaw

"junket"? I see you've got an open mind on this. Having attended some conferences while I was a government bureaucrat, I've seen waste and I've seen benefits. Sometimes there's nothing better than a face-to-face meeting and sometimes the informal discussions which occur outside the formal agenda actually lead to saving money.

On the other hand, since GSA has pushed telework and e-gov, I'd be curious whether they've tried wikis, webinars, and similar innovations for the planning functions. IMHO a judicious blend of cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned meetings is the way the government should go.

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