Drumsticks and violins: GSA event costs taxpayers $270,000

The inspector general for the General Services Administration has launched an investigation into a one-day award ceremony that cost taxpayers nearly $270,000.
 
More than $20,000 was spent by the scandal-ridden GSA on 4,000 drumsticks in what IG Brian Miller described as “a drum band exercise” at a Marriott hotel in Arlington, Va., where the ceremony was held.
 

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Miller detailed a lengthy list of expenses for the 2010 event, including $34,073 to reserve the hotel space, $20,738 in catering costs and $7,697 for a “Commissioner’s Reception” at a separate Marriott hotel that provided 200 attendees with scores of hors d’oeuvres, beverages and miniature pastries to the tunes of a live guitarist and violinist.
 
Miller revealed the latest investigation into the GSA’s egregious spending in a letter to Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation Committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management subcommittee.
 
The IG told the lawmakers that he was conducting an “administrative investigation” and a “preliminary analysis” of the Nov. 17, 2010, event, which was held by the GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service division. Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini brought the incident to the attention of Miller last week.
 
The most expensive cost of the ceremony was the more than $140,000 paid to Gallagher & Gallagher — a self-described “full-service marketing, advertising, and public relations firm” — for what Miller depicted as “coordination and logistical management.”
 
The PR firm has been doing business with the GSA since 1999, according to its website, which boasts of several events it helped the agency “successfully rollout.” Also posted on their website is a letter from former Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in 2007 congratulating the firm on winning a $25 million contract with GSA.

Earlier this year, Capitol Hill was in an uproar and lawmakers held a series of damning hearings when news surfaced that the GSA ran up a taxpayer-funded bill of $822,000 on expenses such as a clown, a mind reader and commemorative coins during a 2010 conference in Las Vegas. The costs were exposed in an IG report that led to the speedy resignation of the GSA’s administrator and the firing of two of her top deputies.

Denham pledged to continue the committee’s investigations of GSA, which were launched earlier this year by panel Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), to see how deeply rooted the culture wasteful spending is within the agency.

“Instead of clowns and mind readers, we’ve got violinists and guitarists – GSA has really classed up their act,” Denham said in a statement.

“We’ve known that there is a culture of waste, fraud and abuse within the many layers of GSA, and this proves that this is a systemic problem that is rooted deeply within this organization.

“We want to see exactly how far up this goes and how widespread this type of waste and corruption is within government. We will continue to investigate until we uncover and put a stop to all parties, vacations, and kickbacks at the taxpayers expense,” Denham said.

A spokesperson for GSA emphasized that it was the new acting head of the agency that identified the latest instance of egregious spending and forwarded the matter to the IG.  The agency spokesperson said the 2010 ceremony in Northern Virginia was an example of “a pattern of misjudgment which spans several years and administrations.”

“Today, under the new GSA leadership, this event and type of spending is not tolerated,” said GSA communications director Betsaida Alcantara in a statement. “As of April 2012 all spending for events, including training conferences, leadership events, team building exercises, award ceremonies, were suspended.”

The GSA also pointed to recent steps it has taken to cut executive bonuses and put a hiring freeze into place across the agency, as well as moves to cancel 36 conferences and implement tighter review processes for every future conference.

“The new leadership at the GSA is leaving no stone unturned in investigating any misuse of taxpayer dollars. When we find serious issues we refer them to the Office of Inspector General, as we did in this case,” Alcantara said.

IG Miller's letter was also sent to Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has also investigated the GSA's misuse of taxpayer money.

Updated at 4:32 p.m.