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Entries in Martha Johnson (4)

Wednesday
Apr112012

Latest GSA Docs Reveal More About Martha Johnson's Solyndra Meeting

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- The House Energy and Commerce committee released documents late Wednesday that show former General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson had planned to meet with Solyndra in California at the same time GSA employees attended a lavish Las Vegas conference, but she changed her mind just days before her trip. An investigation into that conference and other wasteful spending at GSA led to Johnson’s resignation earlier this month.

Johnson did not attend the Solyndra meeting scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010, just days before the congressional midterm elections. Instead, travel records show she went to Portland, Ore., for three days to visit a GSA-sponsored construction project that taught women new job skills with stimulus money.

According to documents released by the committee, Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison had informed the Department of Energy on Oct. 25 that the green energy company intended to announce layoffs three days later, on Oct. 28, the same day Johnson considered attending meetings. Solyndra ended up delaying the announcement until after the election at the request of the White House, according to the committee.

In one document released by the committee from Oct. 25, GSA deputy administrator Susan Brita wrote a GSA spokesperson asking for details of Johnson’s upcoming trip to Solyndra.

“I’m coordinating with the Solyndra folks today to tie down the details. I’ll let you know if anything changes, but as of now the event is the morning of Thursday the 28th,” the spokesperson answered on Oct. 25. “I’m shooting for 10:30ish. MJ [Martha Johnson] will take a tour of the plant and speak to plant execs and workers. No formal remarks. I’m inviting a few targeted reporters who seem like good fits for this sort of thing.”

Solyndra is the now-bankrupt green energy company that the Obama administration had provided with a $535 million loan through the stimulus.

Republicans believe the timing is curious and contend the trip was scrapped due to Solyndra’s pending layoffs announcement, amid concerns by Democrats over political fallout from the layoffs.

Reached for comment, a White House spokesman said, “We don’t normally respond to or even get asked about events that never transpire.”

The White House and GSA both maintain that Johnson never met with Solyndra at any point during her tenure at GSA. There are no records that a meeting with Solyndra ever transpired.

Johnson also was set to receive an award in San Francisco the same week, but she had someone else accept the prize on her behalf.

ABC News reported Tuesday that a senior GSA official, Jeff Neely, who is currently on administrative leave, testified in a government investigation that Johnson missed the 2010 Western Regions Conference to attend “a meeting with Salindra [sic].” Other records prove Neely’s testimony incorrect, even if he had caught wind of Johnson’s planned meetings.

Administration officials said she did not meet there and provided records Wednesday morning that showed Johnson traveled to Portland, Ore., instead.

The agency spent about $823,000 on the 2010 convention for 300 employees, including thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA inspector general presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference. Seven other officials have resigned, been fired or suspended in the wake of the scandal.

Multiple congressional hearings are scheduled beginning Monday to investigate the matter when Congress returns to session next week. Johnson and Neely are both invited to testify at two hearings on the House side of the Capitol.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr112012

Former GSA Administrator Was in Va., Ore. During Vegas Conference

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- Online records, hotel receipts and flight itineraries for former U.S. General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson show that she was in Williamsburg, Va., and Portland, Ore., during the lavish Las Vegas conference that eventually led to her departure, not meeting with Solyndra company officials in California, as government testimony from a senior official at GSA claims.

Jeff Neely, a regional administrator now on administrative leave, testified in March 2011 that Johnson missed the 2010 Western Regions Conference to attend “a meeting with Salindra [sic],” according to ABC News’ Tuesday reporting on the transcripts.

But travel records show that Johnson flew coach on United Airlines from Washington National Airport, connecting through Chicago on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010.  Johnson left Portland on Oct. 29, flying non-stop to Washington-Dulles International Airport.  Hotel records also show that she stayed at a Courtyard Marriott. 

Johnson was in Portland to visit a GSA-sponsored construction project that taught women new job skills with stimulus money.  She was in Williamsburg for a leadership conference and panel discussion during the first two days of the Vegas conference.

GSA and Obama administration officials disputed Neely’s testimony on Tuesday, but provided no records showing Johnson’s whereabouts until Wednesday morning.

The agency spent about $823,000 on the 2010 convention for 300 employees, including thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA inspector general presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference.  Seven other officials have resigned, been fired or suspended in the wake of the scandal.

Multiple congressional hearings are scheduled to investigate the matter when Congress returns to session next week.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr102012

Former GSA Administrator Skipped Vegas Conference for Meetings at Solyndra

Tom Williams/Roll CallUPDATE: On Wednesday morning, sources provided ABC News with records and documentation showing Martha Johnson did not travel to California to meet with Solyndra, and was in Virginia and Oregon for other meetings and activities. Read the updated story here.

(WASHINGTON) -- Former General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson missed a lavish Las Vegas conference for government employees because she was already committed to meetings in California at Solyndra, according to testimony in an official government investigation.

Solyndra is the now-bankrupt green energy company that the Obama administration had provided with a $535 million loan through the stimulus.

The development, if true, dovetails together two embarrassing but otherwise unrelated episodes for the Obama administration.

According to a 52-page transcript from the Inspector General investigator’s March 15, 2011 interview with Jeff Neely, a regional administrator currently on administrative leave, Neely explained that GSA incurred some unanticipated expenses for a last-minute video link for four assistant commissioners assigned to participate at the conference in Johnson’s place.

Adam Elkington, a spokesman for GSA, disputes the testimony of Neely, claiming that Johnson did not attend meetings at Solyndra that day. Elkington, however, was unable to explain where Johnson was during the conference.

According to the testimony transcript, in response to a question about Johnson, Neely explained the need for extra audio/visual expenses because Johnson couldn’t attend the conference.

“Martha was actually coming to the West Coast and we had invited her to participate, but the events that she was coming to the West Coast for; one was a meeting with Salindra [sic], who is down to the San Jose area,” Neely answered, although the transcript incorrectly spelled the Fremont, Calif.-based business.

GSA ended up forking over $3,500 for the four assistant administrators to participate in a video-teleconference, according to Neely in the IG interview transcript.

ABC News was able to view a copy of the transcript, but it is not currently available to the public.

“Maybe some of those contract costs were related to that last minute change, because they were supposed to come present in person and then decided to do it via video,” Neely explained. “We said we would try this as an experiment. I, personally, explained to them that I had some concerns about this because we were spending $3,500.00 to save $1,500.00 in travel.”

At the time, the Department of Energy was working to help enable GSA to purchase Solyndra solar panels for rooftops of federal buildings, which some critics believed was an attempt to prop up the doomed company with more federal money.

Earlier Tuesday, GSA acting administrator Dan Tangherlini apologized for GSA’s conduct, and announced the agency had suspended a separate  “Hats Off” incentive program for employees.

“What took place was completely unacceptable,” Tangherlini said in a video statement posted to YouTube. “Those responsible violated rules of common sense, the spirit of public service, and the trust that America’s taxpayers have placed in all of us.”

The agency spent about $823,000 on the 2010 convention for 300 employees, including thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA inspector general presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference. Seven other officials have resigned, been fired or suspended in the wake of the scandal.

Multiple congressional hearings are scheduled to investigate the matter when Congress returns to session next week.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr022012

Head of Government Cost Cutting Resigns After Lavish Convention

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama -- “outraged” by an inspector general’s report detailing lavish spending by the government agency in charge of cutting costs -- has fired the head of that agency, Martha Johnson, the now-former administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration. Technically, White House officials, upon his order, sought her resignation, and she submitted it.

The GSA helps to manage the basic functions of federal agencies, including by developing policies intended to minimize the cost of doing business with the federal government.

Despite that charge, GSA spent $835,000 on a Las Vegas convention in 2010 for 300 employees, which included thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

It was GSA Inspector General Brad Miller who brought the expenses to light. White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew in a statement 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. The President was informed before his trip to South Korea, and he was outraged by the excessive spending, 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.”

Johnson in her letter to GSA employees acknowledged that the Agency “made a significant mis-step,” as discovered by the Inspector General, “an internal conference in which taxpayer dollars were squandered led me to launch internal reviews, take disciplinary personnel action, and institute tough new controls to ensure this incident is not repeated.”

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called it “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,” particularly after “President Obama lectured the private sector about not wasting funds on Las Vegas conventions.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio