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Private parties and sushi rolls: how a US government agency blew $820,000


A damning report into how a US government conference for just 299 people ended up costing US taxpayers more than US$822,751 (£519,000) has been published.


The Office of Inspector General (IG) has produced a scathing 23-page dossier on the Public Buildings Service of the General Services Administration’s (GSA) 2010 Western Regions Conference, held at the M Resort, outside Las Vegas, in October 2010.


It highlights a list of ‘excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissible’ conference spending, contractual irregularities, and failures to follow basic procurement law. Excessive and ‘questionable’ spending was reported in planning and food and beverage.


In March 2009 five GSA employees visited nine Las Vegas hotels. Later the same month 15 employees returned to visit two of the nine hotels – the M Resort and Ritz-Carlton. A further five meetings took place – sometimes for up to 31 employees – at the M Resort prior to the conference, while another planning meeting was held in Colorado, Denver.


Meeting planners spent almost $150,000 on food and beverage at the three-day conference, including several ‘private parties’ in upgraded hotel rooms, which cost approximately $5,600. A networking reception on the first evening cost $32,000 alone, including 1,000 sushi rolls at $7 each and 400 Mini Monte Cristo Sandwiches at $5 apiece and 150 $19 per head pasta dishes.


The US Travel Association urged federal lawmakers to carry out a measured and appropriate response to the findings of the report.


“The findings of the IG report clearly detail instances of inappropriate spending and poor decision making on the part of federal employees,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the US Travel Association.


“At a time when Washington is laser-focused on creating jobs and curbing wasteful spending, we hope policymakers will remember that responsible travel can help accomplish these goals. We know through repeated studies that travel for face-to-face meetings increases worker productivity in the private and public sectors.


"We also know that meetings, conferences and events are critical to our economy and support 845,000 US jobs. We hope Congress and the Administration will consider these facts when deciding how to appropriately respond to the event from October 2010.”


He added: “Unfortunately, a single instance of irresponsible decision making has the potential to cast a negative light on the millions of men and women who work every day to make America’s meetings, conventions and events industry the best in the world."

Pictured: The
M Resort, where the conference took place

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