GSA holds conference at luxurious Opryland as House convenes hearing

As General Services Administration officials are grilled on lavish spending and bonuses, another lavish conference in Tennessee raises questions


The embattled General Services Administration isn't exactly taking its lumps. 

While a House panel convened a hearing Wednesday morning to hammer the free-spending GSA for its frequent and costly conferences, the GSA was holding yet another conference -- this one at the sprawling Opryland convention center in Nashville, Tenn. 

The 2012 GSA SmartPay Training Conference runs from Tuesday to Thursday this week. It's for banks investing in the agency's so-called SmartPay system, but also invites a range of officials within GSA. 

The visuals of the Nashville conference may prove irresistible to lawmakers looking for more examples of GSA's over-spending. 

The conference being held this week in Nashville was held in Las Vegas last year, at a cost of nearly $840,000. This year, 48 employees are expected to attend in Nashville. 

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GSA, though, defended the conference as necessary. "The SmartPay conference is required and is held to improve the management of government charge cards program. These jobs require continuous education for the managers of these cards," the agency said in a statement. 

The agency noted that it has cancelled 37 conferences so far and has "reviewed every conference to ensure that the conferences that move forward ... are justified."

"These conferences are critical for training and for businesses to understand how to work with government. These have been attended by thousands of federal, state and local employees, as well as thousands of small and large businesses," GSA said. 

Documents obtained exclusively by Fox News show dozens of conferences in recent years, as well as millions of dollars worth of bonuses handed out to employees. At one controversial conference held in suburban Washington in 2010, more than 3,700 employees received bonuses averaging about $1,000 apiece at the conference. The cost to taxpayers was $3.6 million. 

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.