- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2012

The table was strewn with Crayola markers, glue, tin foil and a box of discarded Milk Duds as the General Services Administration workers happily tinkered away on a crafts project in the posh Las Vegas casino.

The next day, presumably in the name of team building, they gathered near the pool, wore bandanas over their eyes, held hands and took part in some sort of activity that required rope, a tennis ball and a little traffic cone. Later, they teamed up to assemble small bicycles and, yet again, they held hands.

Except for the cocktails, beer and wine, many of the scenes from the now infamous 2010 General Services Administration conference gave the appearance of a fun summer camp.

Such glimpses were among hours of video, hundreds of snapshots, documents, agendas and other records recently provided by the GSA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Washington Times for data contained on an internal agency website on the $823,000 four-day affair in 2010.

READ MORE: The entire collection of videos, documents and photographs released by the agency.

Taken together, the records provide a comprehensive inside look into a gathering that has come to symbolize — much like the “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark years earlier — egregious federal government waste.

The records included more than two dozen videos from the conference, some previously released, but others that have not yet been made public. In one video, two GSA employees teamed up for a magic gag that went like this: One federal worker pulls handkerchief after handkerchief out of the second federal worker’s sleeve. Then, a handkerchief gets stuck. The first federal worker pulls harder. Suddenly, out pops out a pair of man-sized Superman underwear.

The Times has identified the workers in the video as GSA employees Dan Purcelley and Javier Fernandez. Mr. Purcelley declined to comment and referred questions to a public affairs officer, citing agency rules, while Mr. Fernandez could not be reached for comment.

Participants in the videos may have had little role in the overall spending decisions that have come under harsh scrutiny. Still, from the event’s “red carpet” gathering to videos with jokes about martinis and gambling, the participants appeared to be having lots of fun.

In a folder titled “Playbill” on the agency’s internal website, for instance, GSA documents included the lyrics to a closing song of the conference that noted, “We had a gas, with the host, of the show, Jeff Neely is here, tonight.”

The ditty refers to the GSA regional commissioner who played a key role in organizing the conference. Mr. Neely has refused to testify before Congress, pleading his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination after a scathing audit on conference expenses by the GSA’s Office of Inspector General.

The scandal has forced the ouster of the former GSA administrator, Martha Johnson. Her replacement, acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, has pledged reforms and a “top-to-bottom review” of agency operations.

In an email to The Times on Monday, GSA spokesman Adam Elkington called the videos “another example of the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference.”

“Our agency continues to be appalled by this waste of tax dollars, and we are taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” he said.

To be sure, the videos do reveal some discussion on topics important to GSA and its work managing the federal government’s vast real estate holdings and handling of contracts. But even the serious talks didn’t always begin so seriously. Often, there were opening acts, comedy bits that seemed to have no purpose other than producing chuckles.

In one video, for instance, the GSA’s chief people officer, Anthony E. Costa, apologizes backstage to a colleague for being too busy to “friend” him on Facebook.

“It’s gotten so bad I’ve had to get some help,” Mr. Costa says, adding that he just got a clone from a government acquisition service schedule. A man wearing a beige cap looking bald — like Mr. Costa — enters the scene. Mr. Costa introduces him as “Tony Clonesta.”

“I’m tweeting to our peeps right now about smart meetings,” the clone says.

Before the gag comes to a close, this being Las Vegas, the clone breaks out in song: “My name is Tony, and I like to tweet,” he crooned. “Tweet, tweet, tweet all day long.”

It’s all part of the buildup for Mr. Costa’s entrance as he walks out onto the Las Vegas stage to a soundtrack of “Double Vision” by rock band Foreigner. After a few more laughs, he launches into a speech about collaboration, innovation and problem solving.

Mr. Costa, according to the agency’s website, heads GSA’s “Human Capital Strategic Plan” and offers advice and human resource services to all GSA organizations. He received the Presidential Rank Award in 2002 as a “Meritorious Executive.” and in 2004 was a “Distinguished Executive,” according to the agency.

Another video features a spoof of LeBron James, the NBA basketball star, and repeated references to the television show “Law & Order.” The “stars” of the video are GSA executives Larry Melton and Robert E. Peck. Mr. Peck has left the agency in the wake of the scandal.

In yet another video, Mr. Neely sums up the conference experience in a closing speech.

“I think throughout the past few days, we have managed to have fun,” he says. “Above all else, we have managed to have lots of fun.”

Other records produced by the agency include materials from slide presentations. One slide is titled “More FUN Events.” Another slide contains a professionally written set of rules and directions, along with graphics, outlining a game called the “Minute to Win It Challenge.”

“When the clock starts, player may grab bubble wand and begin blowing bubbles from behind start line, 15’ from hoop,” the document states.

Another GSA document lists 20 terms of “Rat Pack Lingo” with definitions such as:

• “Wow-ee Wow WoW — expression of glee, joyful anticipation for fun.”

• “Ring-a-ding — term of approval for a beautiful girl.”

• “Gas/Gasser — a great situation.”

But to critics, one Rat Pack term on the list probably stands out all these months later:

• “Endsville — total failure.”

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