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What's worse than a $822,000 conference in Vegas? Not being invited

Apr. 27, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Jeff Neely, Public Buildings Commisioner for GSA's Region 9, was the sponsor of the $822,000 conference in Las Vegas.
Jeff Neely, Public Buildings Commisioner for GSA's Region 9, was the sponsor of the $822,000 conference in Las Vegas. (Thomas Brown / Staff)

On Oct. 18, 2010, a union official emailed the head of the General Services Administration about a "grave matter."

His union was not invited to an upcoming conference in Las Vegas.

Bruce Williams, president of the American Federation of Government Employees council 236, told then-GSA Administrator Martha Johnson the snub was a "classic insult." The union, Williams said, "expected to be treated with the respect we had been afforded" under former President Bill Clinton.

In response, Jeff Neely, GSA's public buildings commissioner for Region 9 and sponsor of the conference, sent an email to Williams, apologizing for the perceived slight.

"GSA will fund one attendee from AFGE and one from NFFE [another GSA union, the National Federation of Federal Employees]," Neely wrote. "I hope you are able to join us and am very sorry for the late notice."

Williams was unsatisfied. He replied that he wanted four paid trips for AFGE representatives one for each of the GSA regions represented at the conference. "However, I will not continue to make an issue on this matter concerning the number of slots for this year, since everything is at the last minute and we have received an invitation," Williams wrote, adding that he expected the situation to be handled differently for the next conference.

But it's unclear if there will be a next conference.

As was widely reported, GSA employees who attended that 2010 Western Regions Conference enjoyed a sumptuous affair, featuring mind readers, lavish after-hours hotel suite parties and filet mignon. The now-infamous $822,000 conference which Neely told organizers should be "over the top" was the centerpiece of a scathing inspector general's report on excessive government spending that ultimately toppled GSA's leadership, including Johnson.

Besides forcing the ouster of Johnson, Public Buildings Commissioner Bob Peck and Johnson's senior counsel, Stephen Leeds, the IG report on the conference prompted another 10 senior GSA managers and employees, including Neely, to be placed on administrative leave. The Justice Department is reviewing the IG's finding for possible criminal charges.

Federal Times obtained the GSA emails from a congressional source familiar with the ongoing IG investigation.

Steve Hahn, an AFGE official and employee in GSA's Region 8, attended the conference.

But AFGE spokeswoman Enid Doggett said Hahn attended as a GSA employee, not as an AFGE official, and that AFGE did not send a representative to the conference. Williams and Hahn did not respond to repeated attempts to reach them for comment.

NFFE did not respond to requests for comment.

Related reading">Senate approves amendment to cut conference spending (April 24)">Get GSA's Neely off the federal payroll, lawmaker says (April 24)">GSA calls on officials to repay party expenses (April 16)">GSA scandal referred to Justice for possible criminal charges (April 13)">Emerging GSA scandal brings down top officials (April 2)

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