The General Services Administration is in hot water again, this time for a $269,000 one-day awards ceremony held November 2010 in Washington, D.C.
The lavish event featured a drum-band exercise and special V.I.P. reception with miniature pastries and music by a violinist and guitarist, according to a July 19 letter from GSA Inspector General Brian Miller.
Gifts doled out include 4,000 drumsticks ($21,000), 4,000 “time and temperature” picture frames ($28,000) and 68 “shadowbox” picture frames ($8,000).
“Some of the expenses are just astounding if you consider the difficult times that we’re in,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) at a press conference, holding up a guitar and pair of drumsticks for illustration.
GSA spent $41,000 on travel, $34,000 on the Crystal City, Va., Marriott awards ceremony venue (including $21,000 in catering costs) and $8,000 for the V.I.P. reception, which was held at a separate hotel, the Key Bridge Marriott in Rosslyn.
“We have begun a preliminary analysis of the information we have received from the Agency and have opened an administrative investigation. Our initial findings show costs upwards of $268,732 for the one-day ceremony,” Miller said in the letter.
To help organize and execute the awards ceremony, GSA paid D.C. public relations firm Gallagher & Gallagher $140,000, which included the cost of the drumsticks.
GSA came under fire in April for spending almost $823,000 on an October 2010 Las Vegas conference for about 300 people. The inspector general also said officials violated scores of rules and regulations governing spending of taxpayer dollars.
In the wake of the report, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson resigned, two of her top aides were fired and four other managers were placed on leave.
“In this instance, rather than mind readers and clowns, they’ve got guitarists and violinists,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) about the new revelations, adding that his subcommittee will be holding a hearing about the matter the week of July 30.
GSA Communications Director Betsaida Alcantara said, “Today, under the new GSA leadership, this event and type of spending is not tolerated. As of April 15, 2012, all spending for events — including training conferences, leadership events, team building exercises, award ceremonies — were suspended.
“These events indicate an already recognized pattern of misjudgment which spans several years and administrations. It must stop and is why Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini has instituted several stringent new policies on spending to put an end to this misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
The awards ceremony came to light because Tangherlini alerted the inspector general to it, Alcantara said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.