Government officials fired over lavish spending at conference

Government spending is under fire after a handful of officials were fired for their elaborate spending at a four day retreat, that included a $7,000 bill for sushi.

Stacey Vanek Smith: A new report from the General Services Administration's inspector general says government officials spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a training conference near Las Vegas -- and the money wasn't only going to binders and bag lunches. Now, the head of the GSA has resigned; two deputies were fired.

Marketplace's David Gura is in Washington, with more.  Good morning, David.

David Gura: Morning Stacey.

Smith: The GSA is an independent agency that manages federal office space and buildings. What was it spending so much money on at this conference?

Gura: You look at this list -- it's kind of unbelievable, Stacy. This was a four-day training conference for 300 employees, held at the M Resort and Casino. That's in Henderson, Nevada, just south of Las Vegas. There was a $31,000 reception -- with a clown and a mind reader. There were $44 breakfasts; and there was so much sushi -- $7,000 worth of sushi. As if that wasn't memorable enough, they gave you something to remember the conference by: a commemorative coin, Stacy. All those together cost more than $6,000. And in the end, the total cost for this four-day weekend training conference was $823,000.

Smith: That is pretty amazing. David, tell me -- how can waste like this be prevented?

Gura: I should say, this spending was against the rules; there are strict guidelines in place for conferences like this one -- how much you can spend on a hotel room, for instance; what's the maximum you can pay for breakfast. This is creating quite a bit of buzz on Capitol Hill, as you might imagine. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman's called this "a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars."

I just talked to Republican Congressman Mike Turner; he's on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
He says you can bet there are going to be hearings on this, and in the future, Congress has to keep a closer watch on agency budgets.

Mike Turner: I mean there is a tremendous amount of waste and government spending when we have trillions dollar deficits.  This is an excellent example of the type of dollars that the administration needs to pursue and save for the taxpayers.

Now Congressman Turner isn't alone -- a lot of lawmakers are saying this instance shows the federal government has gotten too big, Stacey, and that federal spending is out of control.

Smith: David Gura in Washington. Thank you, David.

Gura: Thank you.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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