US & World

Million dollar Vegas party puts GSA under Congressional microscope

Newlyweds posing in front of the famous Las Vegas sign
Newlyweds posing in front of the famous Las Vegas sign
Etienne Aida Reyes LeBlanc

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Washington is abuzz about the General Services Administration’s spending more than a million dollars on a team-building event in Las Vegas and an employee award program that handed out iPods and gift cards. Three Congressional committees - all headed by Californians - are investigating the federal agency. They and others are zooming in on a federal employee’s video that spoofs…excessive spending.

Temecula Congressman Darrell Issa’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee released the video, which is a takeoff on Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars' song "I Wanna Be a Billionaire." In the video, GSA employee Hank Terlaje strums a ukelele and sings about becoming the head of GSA, saying he'd "never be under investigation" for spending excesses. Terlaje was rewarded for his humor by being named honorary commissioner for the day. The video was handed over to Issa's committee by the GSA's inspector general.

Next week, Democratic US Senator Barbara Boxer's Environment and Public Works Committee will look at the GSA inspector general's report.

Fresno Congressman Jeff Denham, who chairs the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee – will preside over the first House hearing about the spending. Denham says instead of using taxpayer dollars to liquidate properties, the GSA spent them on a lavish employee event. "Unfortunately, I think there’s a lot of waste in government where we need greater transparency to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future."

Denham calls the Las Vegas trip the “tip of the iceberg.” He wonders why it took two years for a million-dollar party and employee gifts to come to light.

The head of the GSA Martha Johnson has resigned and two of her deputies who attended the Las Vegas event have been fired. Four other regional managers have been put on administrative leave.