After Vegas Misadventure, GSA Leadership Gutted

The Washington Post reports that General Service Administration (GSA) administrator Martha Johnson resigned after firing two of her top deputies and placing four other managers on administrative leave following the release of a report detailing a very pricey junket in Las Vegas. Public Building Commissioner Bob Peck, Hon. ASLA, took the fall earlier this week after the full report by the GSA’s Inspector General was released.

The firing and resignations were due to a “training seminar” organized by GSA leadership in Las Vegas. The Washington Post reports that some $823,000 was spent at the 300-person event at the M Resort and Casino, going way past the government approved costs and employee per-diems for conferences.

The Obama administration has been embarrassed by the episode, particularly given its recent efforts to cut government spending and improve efficiency across the board, so they seem to have thrown the book at these political appointees.

Capitol Hill also weighed in: “Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) called the episode ‘a stupid and infuriating waste of taxpayer dollars.’ House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said it reflects the ‘waste that exists in a bloated federal government.'”

GSA’s inspector general documented the over-spending. First, GSA event staff spent $130,000 on six look-sees to scope out hotels and event spaces. Then, according to the Associated Press: “Planners spent $31,000 on a ‘networking reception’ that featured $19-per-person ‘American artisanal cheese display’ and a $7,000 in sushi. Taxpayers also footed the bill for a $3,200 session with a mind reader, $5,600 for in-room parties, $3,700 for T-shirts and almost $2,800 in water bottles. A separate cocktail reception included $1,500 for ‘Boursin scalloped potato with Barolo wine-braised short ribs’ and a $525 bartender fee for a cash bar. A senior official spent $2,700 to entertain other employees after the closing dinner.”

Despite these shenanigans, the loss of Johnson and Peck may be a blow to the GSA’s efforts to green the vast federal building stock. Johnson had an ambitious vision for the GSA. At a U.S. Green Building Council conference in D.C. a few years ago, she introduced GSA’s zero environmental footprint (ZEF) initiative, which aims to eliminate the negative impact of the federal government on the environment. There, she said: “This is our moonshot. It’s the right thing to do, but we need to take risks, innovate, and get out of our comfort zone.” 

Peck, who served on the staff of Sen. Patrick Moynihan and was Public Buildings Commissioner under President Bill Clinton for five years, was dedicated to improving the energy performance of federal government’s buildings and even incorporating best practices for sustainable landscapes. Under Peck, the GSA hired its first landscape architect in order to better incorporate landscape design into GSA’s sustainability initiatives and design programs. GSA even collaborated with Metropolis magazine on a cutting-edge design competition aimed at completely revamping an outmoded federal building created in the 1950s. 

Dan Tangherlini, a former city administrator under mayor Adrian M. Fenty who until now has been serving as assistant secretary for management at the Department of the Treasury, is going to take over Johnson’s spot at GSA. When he was with the D.C. government, he oversaw Metro and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and applied smart transportation planning to help make D.C. one of North America’s greenest cities. Let’s hope Tangherlini will ensure the GSA doesn’t lose any forward momentum in its effort to make the world’s largest landlord more sustainable.

Image credit: “Luxury suite,” M Resort, Las Vegas /

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