Agency under fire for Vegas conference had ballooning budgets in recent years

Commemorative coins and gourmet catering weren't the only items an obscure federal agency was blowing money on, before a scathing inspector general's report put the kibosh on the habit.

The Public Buildings Service, known as the "landlord" for the federal government, is now under intense congressional scrutiny following a report that found it dropped more than $820,000 on a Las Vegas-area conference in 2010.

But the agency, part of the General Services Administration, appears to have been racking up administrative costs for years.

Between fiscal 2007 and 2011, the budget for the commissioner's office alone ballooned from $3 million to more than $9 million -- according to stats provided to the House committee now scrutinizing the numbers. The budget for the agency's headquarters rose 50 percent in that time.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has accused the agency of "stonewalling" his panel in inquiries about those costs. A subcommittee on that panel announced Wednesday that it has scheduled a hearing for April 19 to examine the agency's spending practices.

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The GSA has not returned a request for comment from about those budget figures.

And it's unclear why the figures within the Public Buildings Service have been rising over the past few years.

The commissioner for the service, Robert Peck, was fired in the wake of the convention scandal. The head of the GSA and a top adviser also left the agency following the IG report.

It may be incidental, but the increase for the commissioner's budget can be traced to the year after Peck was appointed in 2009.

In fiscal 2009, the commissioner's budget was $3.25 million, slightly above its level two years earlier.

But that figure jumped to $6.94 million in 2010. It jumped again to $9.16 million in 2011.

The overall Public Buildings Service budget figures, meanwhile, did not fluctuate by much during that period -- just certain components.

The Public Buildings Service was the subject of the inspector general's report. At issue was an agency-held Western Regions Conference in Nevada -- where the watchdog report found numerous instances of "excessive and wasteful" spending.

This included more than $130,000 for planning alone. At the conference itself, the agency spent more than $146,000 on food and drinks. A sampling: $44-a-person breakfasts; $19-a-person "artisanal cheese" displays; and $16-per-person pasta stations.

The commissioner, Peck, also held a party one night in his "loft suite" for senior officials costing nearly $2,000.

For participants, the GSA handed out $3,700 worth of shirts, $6,300 worth of commemorative coins and $1,800 worth of special vests.

The White House has condemned the conference spending.

Chief of Staff Jack Lew said the president was "outraged" when he learned about it and called for those responsible to be held "fully accountable." Four regional commissioners have since been placed on administrative leave.