- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2012

A lavish 2010 Las Vegas conference for federal workers costing taxpayers more than $800,000 famously featured the services of a motivational speaker and mind reader, but it wasn’t the trade show magician’s first government gig.

Before working the room at the General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas for $3,200, self-described mentalist Bob Garner earned more than three times as much in 2007 from a U.S. Army depot in Alabama, purchasing records show.

On his website, Mr. Garner lists the Anniston Army Depot as one of dozens of clients. Federal purchasing documents confirm the job, listing a $13,500 payment from the federal government to a company whose name appears on Mr. Garner’s website.

Mr. Garner’s website describes him as “the perfect choice as a funny motivational keynote speaker or an after dinner speaker. When corporations are looking for an after dinner entertainer for a funny emcee, they know they can always count on Bob to help make their event or conference exciting and memorable.”

The GSA conference certainly proved memorable.

The fallout from a recent audit of the lavish gathering, which included in-room parties, a cash bar and commemorative coins, has forced the ouster of the agency’s top official and spawned an ongoing law enforcement probe.

Mr. Garner played no role in any of the spending decisions that have outraged lawmakers, but his hiring has emerged as one of the clearest examples among a host of questionable expenditures by GSA officials who organized the 2010 gathering.

Mr. Garner, whose clients include a long list of corporations such as IBM and Jimmy Dean Foods, years earlier secured an appearance for the Anniston Army Depot. The depot’s spokeswoman, Clester Burdell, confirmed the 2007 deal, but she said the people responsible for the hiring were no longer employed there.

Contract documents state the hiring was for the “ACS Training Seminar.”

Ms. Burdell said ACS stands for Army Community Service. She said the hiring came in 2007 during wartime, with many employees deploying, leaving behind families.

“So I think the intent was to have a forum or some avenue and somebody who could help them get through these stressful times,” she said. Still, she added, “I do know there is an approval process for spending and that would never occur under today’s leadership. We’re all being asked to do more with less, and that would not happen today.”

The purchase order was signed Aug. 15, 2007, with a completion date listed about five weeks later on Sept. 26.

The Army’s Anniston depot, located in northeast Alabama, is a major military maintenance facility with about 7,000 employees and a budget of more than $800 million.

In a comment attributed to the Anniston Army Depot appearing on the testimonial page of Mr. Garner’s website, a commenter thanked him for appearing at the “depot community” on Sept. 26 and 27, 2007.

“Some additional feedback provided by attendees verbally and in writing included the following: ‘Enjoyed it immensely; he kept me on the edge of my seat; he was outstanding; amazing; life changing; awesome,” the testimonial states.

Emails and phone messages to Mr. Garner and the company were not returned Thursday.

Though Mr. Garner was not mentioned by name, the GSA’s hiring of the motivational speaker and mind reader surfaced again and again in recent congressional hearings into the GSA conference scandal.

The GSA’s inspector general, Brian Miller, testified that rules do allow for the hiring of motivational speakers.

“Now, if he was mind reading or entertainment, that would not be permitted,” he said.

At one hearing, Rep. Blake Farenthold, Texas Republican, jokingly bemoaned the fact that the mind reader hadn’t been called to testify, adding that “maybe he could tell us what some of these people were thinking.”

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