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A Mind Reader, a Clown, and a $75,000 'Team Building' Exercise: Federal Agency Head Steps Down After Lavish Training Conference

"Cost the taxpayer around $835,000"

Martha Johnson, the head of the federal agency that oversees supplies, transportation and office space for the federal government, has resigned amid reports of lavish spending at a 2010 training conference outside Las Vegas.

What made it so lavish?  To start, the General Services Administration's (GSA) "training conference" cost the taxpayer around $835,000.  Staged at a luxury hotel, it featured (among other things) a $3,200 mind reader, $6,300 worth of commemorative coin sets, and a $75,000 training exercise where the attendees tried to build a bicycle.  Furthermore, the airfare and lodging for six the "planning trips" for the event cost around $147,000.

The Washington Post reports:

'When the White House was informed of the Inspector General’s findings we acted quickly to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars,' White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement to The Washington Post. President Obama 'was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars,' Lew said, 'and called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable.'


Accounting procedures are being revamped, and there will be more oversight over conference planners and contractors, [GSA spokesman] Mecher said. All employees will be required to take mandatory training in conference planning. Travel budgets for several regional offices have been reduced, and future conferences in the western region, which hosted the Nevada event, were canceled.

Johnson will be replaced by former city administrator for the District of Columbia and assistant secretary in the Treasury Department Dan Tangherlini.

Though many would love to believe that the excessive government waste ends with Martha Johnson's resignation, this is not the first time taxpayer dollars have been wasted.  The question remains: should you really be in charge of vast federal funds if you need to take "mandatory conference planning" and think a clown is the best way to liven up a professional training conference?

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