The General Services Administration Inspector General and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are investigating another GSA meeting for abuse of taxpayer funds: a $268,732 awards ceremony in Arlington, Va. The GSA also canceled its GovEnergy Conference scheduled for August 19–22 in St. Louis.

The one-day GSA Federal Acquisition Service-sponsored awards ceremony was held on November 17, 2010, about a month after the $823,000 Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas. Excesses from the Vegas meeting led to firings, $1 million in meeting cancellations, and new meeting standards.

In a letter to U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, GSA Inspector General Brian Miller said his office was investigating spending at this conference, which was brought to his attention by acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini.

The ceremony at the Crystal Gateway Marriott cost $34,073, including $20,738 for catering and $13,334 for audiovisual services and room rental. A reception at the Key Bridge Marriott, which cost $7,697, included a guitarist and violinist. Coordination and logistical management, outsourced to a third party, cost $104,484. In addition, $20,578 was spent on 4,000 drumsticks for attendees for a drumming activity, $28,064 on 4,000 picture frames that showed digital displays of the time and temperature, and $7,810 for shadowbox frames. Also, $41,734 was spent on travel for 49 attendees, $18,000 on entertainment, and $5,390 on shuttle buses.

“My office will continue to look into this ceremony in addition to our ongoing audits and investigations into other previous conferences,” wrote Miller. “We will continue to update the Committee with any developments that emerge from our inquiry.”

“We want to see exactly how far up this goes and how widespread this type of waste and corruption is within government,” said Denham. “There have got to be other agencies out there doing this, and we plan to continue investigating until we uncover and put a stop to all instances of wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.”

GSA officials said this type of spending is not tolerated under the new leadership. “These events indicate an already recognized pattern of misjudgment which spans several years and administrations. It must stop,” GSA officials stated in an “ABC News” interview. “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. We look forward to the recommendations and findings of the OIG’s investigation.”

More Fallout: GovEnergy Cancellation
Just a month out, GSA canceled its August 19–22, 2012, GovEnergy Conference in St. Louis, leaving 10 hotels and the America’s Center scrambling to replace the business. The reason for the cancellation, according to GSA, is that there was not enough time to find ways to resolve problems arising from the energy conference’s inability to meet the standards the GSA put into place after being criticized for wasteful spending at its 2010 Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas.

While exhibitors and attendees will get their money back, St. Louis’ hospitality community is worried that it may not be so lucky. On the line are $6 million in direct expenditures, including 11,000 total room nights (2,500 peak), and wages for 1,600 hospitality workers metrowide, according to John Bettag, vice president of sales with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

While the hotels and the America’s Center have submitted cancellation invoices for the contracted room blocks, meeting space, and food and beverage minimums, they fear they may get stiffed due to a provision in the contract that includes government regulations and government shutdown in its force majeure clause, along with acts of God and threat of war.

“I’m no lawyer, but it seems to be a bit of a stretch to say GSA can create its own force majeure event,” says Bettag.

A GSA source counters that the administration has not “invoked a force majeure,” and that its contract is with the event’s contractor, MC2, which in turn subcontracted to local businesses. Businesses that have subcontracts should work with the contractor on cancellation-related fees.

The source also noted that GSA has sponsored two major conferences in the past two months that have been widely attended by federal employees and businesses, including Expo in San Antonio and Fed Fleet in Louisville, Ky.

According to a GSA spokeman, “We are working hard to make sure that all parties are treated fairly, and we are open to returning to St. Louis in the future.”

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