Nev. lawmakers, marketers seek distance from GSA scandal
Leave Vegas alone: That’s the message from Nevada lawmakers as Congress investigates a conference held by the General Services Administration (GSA) in October 2010 at the M Resort Henderson.
This page is protected by Copyright laws. Do Not Copy. Purchase Reprint
In the fallout from the $823,000 conference, GSA chief Martha Johnson fired top adviser Stephen Leeds and Public Buildings Service chief Robert Peck before resigning herself. The conference has also prompted probes by a House Transportation Committee panel and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
A government inspector’s report highlighted expenses such as $136,504 on two pre-event scouting trips, $75,000 on a bike-building activity, $7,000 on sushi, $5,600 for in-room parties, $3,700 for T-shirts and $3,200 on a mind-reader.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) took a swipe at the city, saying, “This agency may have been hoping that everything that happened in Vegas would stay in Vegas. This agency is sitting on thousands of mismanaged, underutilized and vacant properties. Excess and underutilized federal properties cost Americans $1.7 billion to operate every year.”
Mica’s comments riled Nevada lawmakers concerned about the impact on the city’s slow-moving economic recovery.
In a letter to Mica, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) urged investigators to focus on the scandal: “While you investigate this matter, it should be noted that it was not the location that caused the misuse of taxpayer funds. The convention services my state offers are the best in the world, and no town in Nevada should be singled out due to the poor judgment by the GSA.”
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took it a step further in a statement last week, accusing Mica of opportunism. “Las Vegas is the best place in the world to hold a convention, and it’s understandable why people want to have business meetings here. However, this situation demonstrates a complete lack of common sense.
“It is very clear that a Florida congressman is trying to embarrass Las Vegas because Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world,” Reid said. “Congressman Mica is failing to do his job as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is to pass the highway jobs bill that will support 12,800 Nevada jobs and 2.8 million [jobs] nationwide.”
In a statement, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), agreed. “If this had happened in Kansas, do you think they’d be holding a similar show hearing in Topeka? Of course not. The misuse of taxpayer funds was outrageous, and President Obama should be commended for taking swift action to punish those irresponsible actors. … This attack on the greatest tourist destination on earth will deter business, kill jobs and hurt our economy.”
In a statement, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesman Jeremy Handel distanced the city from the GSA scandal: “We are always happy when people choose to visit Las Vegas. However, we’re even happier when people choose to visit responsibly. Taxpayers need to know that their money is being spent wisely, no matter where that is.”