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Report on lavish Vegas trip spurs ouster of three top federal employees

The head of the General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, has resigned after it was discovered that she spent taxpayer money on Las Vegas attractions. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.

The head of the U.S. agency that provides products and services to support the federal government resigned Monday, after the agency’s inspector general reported excessive spending at a training conference in Las Vegas that included line items such as "mind reader," and "clown," according to a story first reported by The Washington Post.

GSA administrator Martha Johnson tendered her letter of resignation to the White House Monday and two of her deputies were forced out — Public Buildings Service chief Robert A. Peck and Johnson's top adviser, Stephen Leeds, White House officials told the Post. Four GSA employees who organized the four-day conference have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.

The report released Monday by the inspector general details the outlays at a GSA training conference for 300 employees held at a luxury hotel near Las Vegas in October 2010 that cost more than $835,000.


The costs included $147,000 in airfare and rooms at the hotel for six planning trips by a team of organizers. They also paid $3,200 for a mind reader and $75,000 on a training exercise to build a bicycle and $6,300 on commemorative coin sets.

In her resignation letter, Johnson said that the agency had made a "significant mis-step," in which "taxpayer dollars were squandered." She said she had launched an internal review, taken disciplinary action and instituted tough new controls to prevent similar problems in the future.

She resigned, "so that the agency can move forward at this time with a fresh leadership team," according to her letter.

Johnson was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as head of the GSA on Feb. 5, 2010.

The GSA manages contracts for government needs such as transportation, office space and communications. It is also tasked with developing cost-minimizing policies for the federal government.

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement that President Obama learned of the inspector general’s findings prior to his recent trip to South Korea, "and he was outraged by the excessive spending, question questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars."

"He called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as president," the statement said.

The Repulican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee responded to the news with a statement linking the spending scandal to administration policies.

"After President Obama lectured the private sector about not wasting funds on Las Vegas conventions, it's hypocritical that such a large agency with critical management responsibilities across government would hold this luxurious conference at the height of the recession and even spend thousands on custom made coins touting the stimulus," said a statement from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. 

"Employees congratulating themselves and promoting one of the most politically controversial initiatives of this Administration with taxpayer funds is indicative of the waste that exists in a bloated federal government."

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