GSA Administrator Johnson resigns
April 2nd, 2012
06:07 PM ET

GSA Administrator Johnson resigns

The head of the General Services Administration resigned Monday after a scathing report which called government spending on a training seminar in Las Vegas "excessive, wasteful, and in some cases impermissible." In some election-year damage control, the White House quickly put out a statement that President Obama was “outraged” when he found out about the spending.

GSA Administrator Martha Johnson admitted in a letter of resignation that her agency had made a "significant mis-step" and that "taxpayer dollars were squandered."

A GSA Inspector General's report on the 2010 GSA "Western Regions" training conference in Las Vegas shows that the government spent more than $822,000 for the 300 attendees including $75,000 on team building exercises, $6000 on commemorative coins and $6,000 on canteens, keychains, t-shirts.

President Obama who was informed about the report last week before his South Korean trip and administration officials say he acted quickly. "[H]e was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars." White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement Monday.

"[H]e was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars," White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement..

Lew went on to say the president called for all those responsible "to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as President.”

An administration official told CNN that the President respects Johnson’s decision (to resign), and believes as stewards of the taxpayer dollars, these episodes are not acceptable.

The Inspector General's findings show that the 2010 training conference was held at the lavish "M" Resort Spa and Casino outside of Las Vegas.

The report shows that GSA employees "scouted" the location several times before the conference and that travel alone for conference "planning" totaled more than $100,000 and catering costs over $30,000. Add to that costs for the actual conference of more than $686,000 and the total comes to $822,751.

In her letter of resignation, Johnson said that when she was made aware of the allegations of excessive and questionable spending for the conference she launched internal reviews, took "personnel disciplinary action" and instituted "tough new controls to ensure this incident is not repeated." That was not enough. Johnson continued that she is resigning to allow the GSA to "move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team."

Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman leveled bruising criticism. “This was a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars. The people responsible for it should be held accountable," Lieberman said in a statement.

Martha Johnson came into her position amid controversy. Her appointment as head of the GSA was held up for 10 months through an arcane Senate procedure known as the “hold” where one senator can delay a nomination without reason. When Johnson was finally confirmed by the Senate in 2010 the White House touted it as an example of why Americans are so frustrated with Washington.

Topics: Fraud & Waste • White House

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Shaffer

    Martha has done many great things for GSA, including revitalizing a workplace where the culture can be extremely backward and old school. It's really a shame to see this type of behavior get pinned on her. I highly doubt she knew about this and I don't think we're getting the whole story. She has been a great example at GSA, i.e. giving up her private office to share with several people who work under her, in the name of saving money for the government and teamwork. She was also extremely accessible to ALL ranks of employees (read her blog). Do you know of any heads of other agencies that have given up their corner offices to save the government money? I sure don't. Martha has the mentality that GSA needs. She is a woman who leads by example, which is why I highly doubt she had any idea about this, and doesn't seem like the type of person to sign off on lavish expenses. Martha has also streamlined MANY things at GSA (Lotus Notes–>gMail) that will payoff in long run, telework, etc. Thanks for all your hard work, Martha.

    April 2, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Stephen Hackett

      "Martha" was in charge: she is responsible. If she did not know she is incompentent.
      In the Air Force, where I spent 20 years, resigning would not be an option.
      Dismissal is more like it, and is for an officer what a dishonorable discharge would be to an airman.

      April 8, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Yalaffy

      to me, You're the first tutor who hasn't talked down to me, bcasuee you're not white. Whether that statement came from a lifetime of this young man's resistance to the predominant white culture or his former white tutors took him on as a charity case I do not know, but this feeling of cultural exclusion is very palpable and present, and it is something the white majority is up against regardless of the purity of its intent. The point I am trying to make here is that no person or group, especially a hard-working female or minority scientist, wants to be treated as a project, a charitable result of the goodwill of the cultural majority. Yes, unfortunately, this discussion brimmeth over with cultural hegemony issues bcasuee, while you want everyone to be on equal footing, there are many in your place who do this bcasuee it's the cool thing to do or bcasuee they were forced to. As we see everyday now in this silly Ground Zero Mosque issue and others like it, we are going to have to seize and widen that narrowing common-sense ground between cultural fetishism and latent/outright bigotry.The first thing that has to go in the geoscience community overall, and you have wonderfully demonstrated this personally, is the Us-Them mentality (even a latent one). Secondly, Place and Context are very powerful in a cultural dialogue; where this conversation happens and on whose terms wholly determines its success. And, don't ever thing that your active support isn't important! It is critical! But, as I said in my previous comment, it is imperative that we form genuine relationships with existing minority and female scientists in their own spaces, wherever they may be, and actively support that. Why is it that these folks aren't on blogs and Twitter; are they elsewhere? Where is that? Can there be a third space where all of us can get together just to talk science, careers and the issues that hold us back, and not worry about it being our space or their space?In the data-driven field of science, there is only one viewpoint: the right one or the best theory to date. But, there are many different modes of thinking and research questions that diverse geoscientists bring to the table. Scientists like me who identify as scientist first and then female or minority will always find our way into the thick of things, and emit loud complaints if something or someone keeps us down bcasuee of sex or skin color. But, for those who can't do that, yes, absolutely, let's fight for them. There is a lot of cultural weight here, however. So, less championing and more real friendship and concern is what I ask for. This cannot happen en masse, but by naturally and organically forming a relationship at a time. I hope we can build on our conversation here.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  2. Bruce

    This is what happens when the congress holds up a nominee. That agency went months without a leader and when she finally got confirmed, it was too late...the damage was already done. She is meerly a patsy...

    April 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Jane

      She is in no way a patsy. She was in the know, she did the right thing to resign. Job well done to the inspector general, you guys are not with the agency as most people believe.

      April 2, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • 1FreeWorld

      I can see Obummer being OUTRAGED!

      He says:

      "Why did you call me on this while I am on Vacation!
      I am on the Golf Course,,, I cannot talk right now,,,
      Michelle is on the other line and she is NOT A HAPPY WOMAN!
      Can you ,,,

      Call Bite-Me!,,,

      Or better yet,,, call Al Sharpton and ask him to come to Las Vegas and make him SHOUT
      with Jesse Jackson,,,
      on the Presidential Abuse within the USA!"

      Later he said I am not going to respond to the Unions in Las Vegas,,,
      the SEIU folks will be like the Brown Shirts in Germany with the Nationalists!

      (FYI, Germany's Brown Shirts were,,, (look it up))

      Now just imagine the UNIONS in North Carolina helping the Dems!!!

      They will not help wHousHinee's Butt in NC!

      Can you imagine what the North Koreans would do with that money?

      April 2, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Double Tee

      Bruce, you are a total moron! She is a career bottom feeder – her position/appointment was held up for OBVIOUS cause. You can't spell – merely is correct spelling – and you have ZERO reasoning skills. Obviously, you are a Democrat following blindly down the road . . .

      April 3, 2012 at 1:14 am |
      • Nurhadi

        Hi GSA,I'm thinking about appliyng for organizing GSA events (like the Haloween party). 1) Is there a list of such events that you are looking to have proposals submitted for and 2) Where is the form for such an application?Thanks,James

        August 1, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Americanmexphil

      You have to be kidding me. Another pass by the gullible. you are ether stupid or just what I guess just educated beyond your own intelligence. She had been a co leader of the Obama transition team evaluating the GSA since 2008. She was nominated February 4th 2010 They spent the money October 2010. What was she Doing? The reason it took so long to nominate her was because it was believed she had misinformed and withheld information about 100 people getting sick or died in the banister complex controversy. She was working for the GSA.

      April 3, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  3. Martha

    There is something else going on here – Ms. Johnson has made a lot of enemies by trying to bring the GSA's real estate and procurement practices in line with private sector (cost reducing and energy saving) practices. While it sounds like some bad decisions were made regarding this event, the cost per person all in came into less than $700 per day which is in line with what a high level management development conference costs – and I have been in that business for 20 years.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  4. Martha

    Also, her nomination was singularly held up by a Senator who wanted an unneeded pork barrel office building in his state.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  5. S. William

    Everything in your article appears to be correct until you got to the last paragraph. Her confirmation was not held up because of anything Ms. Johnson did, but rather a senator from Missouri was not happy with GSA'a proposal for closing a Federal office building in his home state.

    You imply that Ms. Johnson was controversial which was clearly not the case and very wrong. It reflects poor reporting.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  6. Deb

    I am not happy about this at all...Who gave the final authorization for this so called conference? We need names and photo's and job titles....Where is the oversight committee. The name of the person who signed this? Not an accurate or complete story CNN...Almost $1 million dollars??? Could have gone to the food shelters or to help the very poor in OUR country...We help everyone in the world and this is what our Government does to us....

    April 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Mas

      Nice post and paper, Anne. Congratulations to all authors. Attracting, reinnaitg and engaging female and minority professionals is a long-standing topic of unresolved discussion at all major geology (and science) departments. I am on the alumni board of the University of Wisconsin's geology department and we've found that competitive scholarships are key, but the problem really lies in a) the predominant white-male paradigm of academic achievement which affects the work of scientists like you and me, and b) science education and accessibility at a lower, grade- to high-school level. Furthermore, people in general, and not just women and minority groups, migrate to where they find the most cultural similarity and sense of community support.Still, there is something that bothers me about this approach and that comes from my own experience throughout my academic life, I have never looked at myself as female or a minority and just as a scientist and technologist who wants to achieve the most in her chosen profession. Be it in academia or the corporate world in which I now work, I've always competed or achieved on my own merits and accomplishments, so there is an unavoidable sense of condescension when white people, and admirably so, sit around and discuss the inclusion of women and minorities, when this conversation needs to happen inside these communities in question. Minorities, especially, avoid certain life or work paths not necessarily because it's not available to them, but because they don't want it to seem as if they were helped.So, a great next step is to work to break past the very real digital divide and form real relationships with existing and potential minority and female scientists in their own spaces (which through years of blogging on New Orleans and Asian-American issues I have found are not the taken-for-granted channels like blogs and Twitter, but more MySpace, member-only forums and, mostly, word of mouth).But I would to love to hear more from minority and outside-of-academia geoscientists about what blogs, Twitter, and other internet-based forms of support could be doing to better support you. I addressed minorities in the previous paragraph. As for outside-of-academia geoscientists, there has got to be more of give and take and a better understanding of how scientists communicate in general. As a corporate scientist, I find that academia has major strides to make in communicating results and not hoarding them until publication in a hard-to-access journal only to be shared amongst subdisciplinary peers. For example, I conduct research on the computer simulation of the high-strain destruction of city-scale geographies; it is virtually impossible to find quality research on aspects of this topic although you know it's being done. My company, on the other hand, is constantly tweeting and touting our results and offerings (admittedly to attract clients, but our work gets out there). Scientists will always find one another, but how to remove this overall suspicion and research hoarding between the academic and public realms? It comes down to a culture of open communication, regardless of your title or place in society, and not whether we blog or not, although blogs and Twitter can accomplish this more efficiently.Apologies for the essay and it may not all make sense, but as a minority female who lives online and has conducted academic and corporate research, there are a lot of interesting issues and buttons your post brought up. The biggest contribution we can make really is that we continue the dialogue.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  7. john mitchel

    About time she got her job only because of being the special assistant to a previous Administrator. She came with no credentials at all in the field of what GSA does. She knew of a problem with her offie and theGSA IG and just ignored them. There are several more in GSA that should be leaving for many other reasons of bad judgement or not being able to make a good decision for the american tax payers. GSA has to learn to say NO to some of their clients especially the Judges and their palace chambers in just about every Federal Courthouse in the US.

    April 2, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  8. ARI

    As a GSA employee I can say that this is just a small tip of an iceberg. There are many hard working professional people in the organization, but there is so much incompetence and waist that this $6K spent on coins seems like less than nothing. In my region they give out $1000 a piece I-Pads and I-Phones like candies to people that, by their job descriptions, have absolutely no business of using them. That is in addition to laptops, blackberries, Sysco phones that every clerk already has. Plus expensive data plans for each type of a gadget so each and every paper pusher will stay connected with the world 24/7. They were going to hand everyone an I-Pad in order to save on printing paper. The idea was that I-pad users do not have to print out much on paper. The fact that a box of paper is just $25 and an I-Pad is $800+$ monthly plan times 500 people was never in the picture. Luckily for our taxpayers they ran out of money before this "great" idea was fully implemented. They created dozens of highly paying positions that did not exist before in the name of "transformation", though it has yet to be explained and no one still knows what exactly is being transformed and to what. Management spends tons of their own and everyone else time on useless town hall meetings, on never ending pep talks, speeches, rallies, videos, initiatives, surveys, etc. They create numerous programs that have nothing or very little to do with the agency's missions. Then they create new positions to manage those worthless programs. They make professional hard working people, who actually produce and keep this organization running, to waste their valuable time on useless inexhaustible mandatory trainings that have little or no value added. They do attend their idiotic conferences, like this one in LV, that, again, have no educational, technical professional or no any value added to the agency's critical missions. But, they'll give a hard time to professional workers trying to attend out-of-town seminars or conferences that are solely professional in nature, and which would actually maintain and increase workers' expertise in their subject matters. They create such an awful flood of junk emails about their useless programs, meetings, initiatives, etc. that if a worker would spend just one single minute opening, reading and deleting each email, it will take at least 4 hours on any given work day.

    April 2, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  9. 23 from texas

    That was on 2010 you boso. She had plenty of time to pull her people together. More like thats what you get from another one of Obama's hand selected appointees...

    April 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  10. Andrew Fuhrman

    Check out this case where GSA litigated relentlessly to block Veteran's Preference to a Desert Storm Vet for 12 years, but was ordered on March 1, 2012 in a Final Enforcement Action before the Merit System Protection Board to pay 12 year's back pay and benefits and hire Larry M. Dow. At least $1,000,000 wasted on one case alone. See this amazing misuse of government power which spanned 3 administrations:

    April 2, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  11. RH

    Why do we let these criminals off with just a resignation. The people and those like them should be spending a little time in jail. That might put an end to this behavior.

    April 2, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  12. Jim

    This won't be the first, or last, time that an out of control government agency squanders taxpayer money. Government agencies rarely shrink in size and typically grow larger and larger. Oftentimes, much larger than their initial intended purpose and much more quickly than any population increases would justify. Why? Because the government and its agencies are not held in check by a need to be profitable. Their ability to tax and borrow at extremely favorable rates guarantees that waste, graft and increased size are the norm.

    April 2, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  13. dreamer96

    Well considering they went to Las Vegas..we should be looking for private dance parties on the expenses...

    April 2, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  14. Billy

    If Obama is so outraged at this, he ought to take a look at his wife's vacations.

    April 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  15. jerry

    I'm to believe if it were not for obama's reelection bid this would be...NO PROBLEM, since the obamas spend our money in the same extravagant manner...

    April 2, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  16. Bobbalu

    I work for a similar federal agency. On occasion we hold these nationwide group conferences that might be attended by a few hundred people. I would imagine that a cost per person of $2000 is typical of what would be spent, probably low when you consider all the expenses.
    I have a personal bill for the last of these meetings – my trip expense was $1700. I made an effort to save on plane fare because I flew from a large metro airport where the fare was only about $270. I would imagine that my own agency is also spending quite a bit on planning such events. I heard that they also will typically have have a group traveling to sites to check them out. I have not heard how much they spend for snacks and refeshments, trainers, and speakers. I would imagine the total cost might approach $2500 per person.

    So spending $2600 per person is not that surprising. Maybe they should make us all do teleconference meetings, or make us stay in Motel 6, I am not picky.

    April 2, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  17. Double Tee

    Looks like the Republicans who blocked Ms. Martha Johnson's appointment were right all along. Another UBER liberal career parasite living off the public trough! She's right out of the mold of Nancy Pelosi – torch the bitch!

    April 3, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Lisa

      Anne, while not relevant to your paper, I toughht that I would add my 2 cents.It was the blogging community that re-awakened my interest geology. Many years ago, family commitments forced me to leave my institution. At the time, I was near completion of a BS, but as I grew older, kids and family forestalled my return.About 10 years ago, I suffered a debilitating injury that eventually cost me my job. I trudged along for a few years at a night job. It was at this time that I realized that I had always wanted to learn the night sky. So, in my downtime, I went outside with star charts and binocs and cell phone internet!This led me to Dr. Plaits blog(on my cell phone)But, I am getting ahead of my self. A few years ago, after a terrible personal lost. I discovered the internet on the big screen .I noticed that my daughter spent a lot of time on-line. So, probably out of boredom, I started exploring this new(to me) medium. That, of course, led to the realization that a lot of people think like I. PZ's blog led to your's, and from there, I discovered many more.Over the past couple of years, reading geology blogs, I re-discovered a passion that I had, sort of, lost. Sure, I still spent time at outcrops collecting inverts, but what I saw was brick a brack! It was the blogging community that helped me realize that fossils are a tool.So, returning to the community of my alma mater, I contacted the dept., and there was a designed for folks like me.Concluding, I would like to thank my daughter, the blogging community, and my institution.Thanks Y'all.P.S. Sorry, for the disjointed nature.I have had a few; too many???

      July 31, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  18. Sponge-Bob

    Someone in Obama's administration wasting money? Go figure!

    April 3, 2012 at 4:07 am |
  19. Milton

    Another fine example of the Obama Administration leadership. Don't fall prey to the hope and change lies, vote the amateur, inexperience, campaigner-in-chief, race baiter out of office!

    April 3, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  20. Paul Sprague

    This is shameful and a perfect example of what happens in our Federal government everyday. What is even more shameful, all they can do to her is terminate her!

    April 3, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  21. GardenGirl2

    Let's do some math: $822,000/300=$2740/person for a training session. Compare that to the estimated HOURLY rate of Air Force One, which, according to various sources, can run from $182,000 ( to $700,000 ( Hmmm, maybe it's time for the US taxpayer to mimic our president and be "outraged".

    April 3, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  22. DeeDee Knox

    Interesting. GSA certainly holds its contractors to a much higher standard. They would have gotten better prices if they would have used Schedule holders for all of these expenses.

    April 3, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  23. Mike

    Lib love spending other people's money. ANother fine example of an Obamma appointee. At least this one was confirmed...confirmed idiot and unqualified. As a govy, I have to buy my own Post-It's money.....its went to Vegas. No I don't care I have to buy them, its the principle of the matter. Training, office supplies, all cut and that's ok....what's not OK is this thief allowing money to be blown on Mind Readers and coin sets

    April 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  24. rightytighty

    Obama outraged over taxpayer dollars are being squandered!? HAHAHA! That's rich considering the $6 TRILLION that he's already spaundered.

    April 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  25. jerry

    oh thats right obama is running for another term...and NOW this won't be tolerated.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
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    April 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm |