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Federal employees got bonuses for planning agency's lavish 2010 event, investigation reveals

 

Awarding bonuses for wasting taxpayer dollars?

That appears to be incentive offered by the federal agency under fire for spending lavishly on a 2010 conference held near Las Vegas. The latest details from an inspector general report on the conference reveal 50 employees were given cash awards of $500 and $1,000 for their work arranging the now-infamous conference.

"It would also appear that a number of GSA bureaucrats who helped arrange the Las Vegas junket were handed cash bonuses for their work in wasting the better part of a million dollars," Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said Tuesday.

Rep. Mica also revealed Tuesday that one high-ranking official spent an extra night in Vegas at taxpayer expense, even though the conference was already over.

Calling the new revelation the "icing on the cake," Mica said the official paid only $93 for a fourth night at the Vegas suite, which costs more than $1,000 a night.

The rest of the cost of the room "was apparently charged to the taxpayer" he said in a statement.

Rep. Jeff Denham, chairman of a subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management, said adding "personal vacation stays in Vegas" to the spending by GSA on the Las Vegas conference was "outrageous."

In light of the the scandal in the General Services Administration over the more than $800,000 spent on the 2010 event, the agency has made a shrewd decision about where to hold its next conference: not Vegas.

The GSA, the federal equivalent of the government's landlord, had been preparing to return to the Las Vegas area, but the Washington Post reported that the upcoming conference, scheduled for April 25 at a Vegas hotel, has been cancelled.

Several agency employees, including its chief, already have lost their jobs over an inspector general's report on the 2010 conference.

Music videos featured at that conference have more or less gone viral by this point, showing agency employees laughing it up while making light of the agency's spending and internal investigations.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been releasing the videos as it launches an investigation into GSA spending following the inspector general's report. The committee announced late Monday that it has scheduled a hearing for April 16, where Martha Johnson -- until recently the head of GSA -- has been invited to testify, along with the inspector general.

An agency spokesman told the Post that the acting administrator has promised greater scrutiny of any conferences "that involve travel or substantial expenditures of public funds."

The conference that had been scheduled for later this month was focused on environmentally friendly products and services and was intended to bring together GSA employees and contractors.

The Obama administration has not attempted to defend the 2010 conference. Top Obama officials have condemned the expenses and pledged to implement protections to clamp down on wasteful spending. 

The administration, though, has pointed to rising costs under the George W. Bush administration to suggest that the $820,000 Vegas conference could have been avoided -- if the Bush-era GSA had acted. 

According to figures obtained by Fox News, the budget for the so-called Western Regions Conference rose from $93,000 in 2004 to $323,855 in 2006. It then jumped to $655,025 in 2008. 

But Lurita Doan, who headed the agency under Bush until her resignation in 2008, told Fox News that President Obama's team is trying to "divert attention" from its own scandal. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.