by Sarah J.F. Braley | April 04, 2012

The meetings industry once again is being portrayed negatively in the news, as the chief of the General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, has resigned, and two of her top deputies were fired over alleged overspending at a training conference the agency held in Las Vegas in October 2010. According to a yearlong investigation of the conference by the agency's inspector general, more than $822,000 was spent to fly 300 people to the M Resort Spa Casino and entertain them with expensive gifts, meals and activities. The report reveals that, before the actual meeting took place in October 2010, five GSA employees went to Las Vegas to visit hotels in March 2009, followed by 15 employees later that month, seven employees in August 2009, 11 employees in November 2009, 16 employees in March 2010, nine in June 2010 and 21 in August 2010. Then 31 GSA employees traveled to the M Resort for a dry run in October 2010. The report also claims the conference planners billed excessive and impermissible costs for food, impermissible and questionable miscellaneous expenses, and followed improper contracting processes. "This apparent instance of excessive spending is newsworthy in part because it’s unusual," said Charles Sadler, CHSP, CHSC, CGMP, executive director and CEO of the Society of Government Meeting Professionals. "Decades of experience demonstrate that the vast majority of government conferences are productive and cost effective. Government travel plays a significant role in the U.S. economy as a whole and no one will want to endure the economic hardship individuals and businesses would experience if leaders take the knee-jerk approach and drastically reduce or shutdown government meetings and travel. The federal government maintains strict rules regarding spending and ethics when it comes to travel and, as in this case, when those rules are broken those responsible should be held accountable." In reference to the charges, Andy Talbert, manager of outreach and conferences for the Department of Defense's Office of Small Business Programs, added, "It makes it harder for us to justify what we do and how we do it." Read the report from the inspector general here. For the US Travel Association's response, click here.