The General Services Administration official responsible for the agency’s lavish 2010 conference at a Las Vegas resort received only “a slap on the wrist” after agency administrators became aware of the wasteful spending, according to an internal GSA email released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Friday.
The email, dated July 8, 2011, is from GSA Deputy Administrator Susan Brita to agency officials. In the email, Brita raised concerns that the agency’s lax discipline against Jeff Neely—who managed the now-infamous Vegas conference that featured mind readers and clowns—would look bad when facts of the conference were released to the public.
Neely only received a disciplinary letter after GSA administrators first became aware of an impending inspector general report on the conference that cost taxpayers more than $800,000.
“[A]ccording to the IG they didn’t' find any agenda that would support comments about substance and important issues,” Brita wrote. “Furthermore, expenses for a clown suit, bikes, tuxedos, and mind reader don't really lend themselves to a claim of a substantive conference.”
“Jeff is a seasoned SES who is expected to display the highest standards of common sense, and prudent financial management. He did neither. Sorry, but your letter is not even a slap on the wrist,” Brita continued.
Brita also advised officials to craft the letter in expectation of a future Washington Post story on the conference and the ensuing political fallout.
The Obama administration painted its response to the report as surprised, outraged, and swift, but the email shows the GSA was in damage-control mode long before the story went public.
Republican investigators on the Oversight Committee and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure pointed to the letter as continuing evidence of the GSA’s wasteful and corrupt culture.
“It’s clear that the culture of waste and corruption went all the way to the top, with the President’s hand-picked Administrator ignoring his call to cut waste in government. Administrator Johnson and her top deputies knew about this and tried to sweep it under the rug, while giving bonuses to those most responsible for waste.” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R, Calif.), a member of the transportation committee.
GSA administrator Martha Johnson resigned in the wake of the scandal, and Neely has been placed on administrative leave.