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Letter to Dan Tangherlini, Acting General Services Administration Administrator


Location: Washington, DC

Norton Takes Action on GSA Overspending

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today released her letter to General Services Administration (GSA) Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini, asking him to consider using in-house event planners, who are already employed by GSA, to plan future events, instead of contracting with outside event planners. Norton sent a copy of the letter to the Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Jeff Zients, because she believes contracting out event planning was responsible for many of the problems with excessive spending for the November 17, 2010, GSA awards ceremony in Crystal City, VA, and possibly other events and conferences. The letter follows up on Norton's questioning of a GSA representative at a hearing of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on August 1, 2012, on wasteful spending by GSA for the November 17, 2010, awards ceremony, one month after the GSA Las Vegas conference that grabbed headlines and was the subject of prior committee hearings. A total of $268,732 of taxpayer money was spent for the one-day November 17, 2010, event. The largest single cost, $104,484.17, was a payment to an outside event planner, although GSA had event planners on staff.

In her letter, Norton recommends that "GSA and other federal agencies use only a fairly small cadre of internal federal employees who could be dedicated to conference planning and perhaps similar events as the agencies find appropriate."

The full text of Norton's letter follows.

Dear Acting Administrator Tangherlini:

At the August 1, 2012, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing, "GSA: A Review of Agency Mismanagement and Wasteful Spending -- Part 2" that focused primarily on the November 17, 2010, General Services Administration (GSA) Federal Acquisition Service division performance award ceremony in Crystal City, VA, I noted that by far the largest expense for the $268,732 one-day conference was $104,484.17 spent for an outside event planner. Under questioning, the GSA representative said that the agency has in-house event planners on staff. Yet GSA contracted with outside event planners at significant cost to taxpayers. I would not be surprised if contracting for event planning is the usual practice at GSA and other federal agencies.

Aside from the considerable expense of the November 17, 2010, conference, the details concerning the other expenses at the event, and at GSA's Las Vegas conference the prior month, reinforces my impression that event planners are accustomed to events for private companies, which do not have the constraints that taxpayers would expect and, therefore, they should be used only for special occasions and as authorized. For example, I do not believe that federally employed event planners would have spent $20,578.24 on drumsticks, $28,364.45 on picture frames, and $7,810.24 on shadowbox frames, as the November 17, 2010, conference had, particularly during a recession.

Without the cost of the outside event planner, the drumsticks, the picture frames, and the shadowbox frames, none of which were integral to the award ceremony, the cost of the ceremony would have been $71,494.90, less than one-third of the cost of the conference, and still would have included catering, room rental charges, a food and drink reception with live music, transportation, and more.

GSA's practice of contracting out event planning probably is replicated elsewhere among federal agencies. I recommend that GSA and other federal agencies use only a fairly small cadre of internal federal employees who could be dedicated to conference planning and perhaps similar events as the agencies find appropriate. Such a change could help agencies and federal employees more fully understand the scope, size, and appropriate amenities for federal agency conferences and would ensure greater compliance with executive and congressional guidance. Importantly, the use of in-house personnel would save taxpayer funds. Because I believe that the administration should consider this recommendation for other agencies as well, I am sending a copy to Jeff Zients, Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

I would appreciate an early reply concerning this recommendation.


Eleanor Holmes Norton

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