How is the GSA spending your money?

·Claudine Zap

Dropping $822,751 on a conference for about 300 people would be a scandalous waste in the private sector (maybe not if you're Instagram)but put that bill on a government tab, and it's unfathomable: In fact, that sum is the amount of taxpayer dollars dropped on a Las Vegas junket by an agency that most Americans haven't even heard of.

If the U.S. General Services Administration wasn't a household name before the wasteful office retreat, it sure is known now: The conference resulted in the resignation of administrator Martha Johnson; a congressional hearing; and some incriminating photos of the conference organizer, Jeff Neely, and his wife, living the preconference "suite" life in the Las Vegas hotel.

So what exactly does this agency do, aside from waste your money? Well, here's the thing: The independent agency is tasked with developing government-wide cost minimizing policies. But along the way, the organization seems to have done the exact opposite.

It all started back in 1949, when President Truman authorized the General Services Administration as an independent government agency. It was the result of combining several government agencies: the national archives, the U.S. Treasury Department's contract department, and the Federal Work Agency.

Its first task: A complete renovation of the White House. Today, the agency is responsible for overseeing federal buildings and supplies. It is in "the business of government," as its website states, offering "private sector professional services, equipment, supplies, telecommunications, and information technology to government organizations and the military. GSA policies promote management best practices and efficient government operations."

These are the guys who are in charge of presidential transitions, historic preservation, and, yes, even running the rules and regulations of travel and conferences for federal agencies, as the acting deputy administrator Dan Tangherlini points out in his mea culpa message on the site's blog.

It certainly has its work cut out.