Why GSA chief was not at Las Vegas conference

Then- leader Martha Johnson was invited to attend the GSA’s "over the top" training conference in Las Vegas in October 2010.

But she missed out because she was in California for meetings at the now-failed Solyndra solar firm, according to a witness interviewed by agency inspectors.

ABC News said it got the information from the transcript of a General Services Administration investigator’s interview with Jeff Neely, a regional administrator who helped plan and run the $823,000, four day conference that has left eggs on the agency and has cost at least three people their jobs — so far.

"The development, if true, dovetails together two embarrassing but otherwise unrelated episodes for the Obama administration, according to the ABC News online report.

That was more than enough for Republicans, who have sought to make a $535 million federal loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt Fremont, Calif., firm a poster-child scandal of the Obama administration. Now House Republicans are preparing two hearings next week on the GSA’s Western Regions Conference, while a Democrat-led Senate committee also plans an inquiry next week.

"Just when you think the Obama administration couldn’t have less regard for the taxpayer dollar, we get news like we did today," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said.

"Obama’s GSA Administrator Martha Johnson couldn’t make it to the lavish taxpayer funded Vegas vacation she approved for government employees because she was too busy wasting money at Solyndra. Astounding."

A GSA spokesman disputed that Johnson was at Solyndra on that particular day, but ABC News said he couldn’t say where she was.

Administration officials say President Barack Obama was notified and he directed them to act quickly and decisively to identify and punish those responsible for what has been blasted as a huge waste of taxpayer money.

It was not established in a 20-page inspector general’s report this month that Johnson "approved" the Las Vegas conference.

Still, she resigned as administrator when the inspector general’s report was released.

 

Two other political appointees have been fired, while five others have been placed on administrative leave, which can be the first step toward dismissal of federal career workers.

According to ABC News, Neely told investigators there were unexpected expenses for last-minute video links from the conference at the M Resort to four GSA assistant commissioners who participated in place of Johnson. The cost was $3,500.

"Martha was actually coming to the West Coast and we had invited her to participate, but the events that she was coming to the West Coast for; one was a meeting with Salindra [sic], who is down to the San Jose area," Neely said, according to the online report.

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