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With issues like Solyndra and Operation Fast and Furious beginning to fade, the General Services Administration’s Las Vegas conference debacle is exactly what the House GOP needed to keep the investigative heat on the Obama administration.
The scandal that erupted last week has already sparked action by the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Oversight and Government Reform committees, as well as a stern response from Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and a comical tongue-lashing from “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.
“Irony! The people holding the conference that wasted a ton of government money are the people in charge of making sure the government doesn’t waste a ton of money,” Stewart quipped, blasting the agency for spending thousands of dollars on commemorative coins and water bottles for conference-goers, as a report by GSA Inspector General Brian Miller revealed last week.
Miller reported that the GSA spent almost $823,000 on its biennial Western Regions Conference in 2010. Costs associated with the conference, held at the M Resort Spa Casino and attended by almost 300 people, included $75,000 for a team-building exercise and almost $147,000 in catered food and beverages costs.
A $31,000 “networking” reception cost $100 per attendee, and food for the entire conference grossly exceeded the allotted per diem for federal employees of $71 per day. The IG report prompted GSA Administrator Martha Johnson to resign Monday, and two of her deputies were fired.
The scandal involving wasteful government spending comes at a time when the unemployment rate remains above 8 percent and Democrats and Republicans regularly bicker about deficit reduction. The fact that the ordeal involves a pricey conference in America’s “Sin City” adds to the drama, and the whole ordeal prompted White House spokesman Jay Carney to declare last week that President Barack Obama “was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars.”
Making matters worse, however, was the surfacing of a six-minute video by GSA employee Hank Terlaje rapping about a lavish life in Las Vegas. The video, during which Terlaje boasted the GSA’s escapades would “never be under investigation,” was part of a talent contest and was given a top prize during an awards ceremony.
While House Republicans sought to blister the administration with investigations on Solyndra and the Justice Department’s Fast and Furious program, neither of those had the easily digestible visuals that have surfaced with the GSA incident.