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Procurement chief quits as agency accused of waste

By JoAnne Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the government's federal procurement office is resigning and two senior officials have been dismissed ahead of a report criticizing the agency's lavish spending on an "over the top" training conference, the White House said on Monday.

Many expenditures by the General Services Administration for the October 2010 conference at a resort outside Las Vegas were "excessive and wasteful" and violated the agency's own policies, said a report by the GSA's Office of Inspector General.

GSA spent $820,000 on the October 25-29 gathering at M Resort Spa Casino, a cost that included pre-conference scouting trips, a "red carpet" dinner with "theatrical talent" and a post-dinner wrap party in a loft suite, according to an executive summary of the report made public on Monday.

GSA Administrator Martha Johnson submitted her resignation to the White House on Monday. The inspector general's report first came to the attention of the White House in early March.

The report cited eight 'scouting trips' and pre-conference meetings that cost over $130,000 and travel by 31 GSA employees to the M Resort on a 'dry run' prior to the event as examples of excessive spending and waste.

Other questionable expenses detailed in the report include clothing purchases for GSA employees, tuxedo rentals and semi-private, catered parties in officials' hotel rooms or loft suites. A $75,000 contract was also awarded to a vendor for a team-building exercise that included the purchase of 24 bikes, the report said.

"When the White House was informed of the Inspector General's findings we acted quickly to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars," White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in a statement.

GSA administrator Johnson fired two senior GSA officials and took disciplinary actions against others and ultimately decided that as the head of the agency she is accountable, senior White House officials said.

The report concluded that keeping costs down for the conference was not a goal and that several suggestions to minimize expenses were ignored.

It says one administrator instructed the conference planners to make it "over the top" and to make it bigger and better than previous Western Regions conferences.

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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