The second congressional hearing on the General Services Administration's (GSA) wasteful spending of taxpayers' money continued on Tuesday, with at least one lawmaker saying it's time to start talking about an alternative to the GSA.
The government procurement agency has come under heavy public scrutiny following the April 2 release of a report from the agency's inspector general, which noted that $823,000 was carelessly spent at a convention in Las Vegas in 2010.
Lawmakers have planned four hearings this week to investigate what they called a culture of wasteful spending at the GSA. They are looking to find out if the overspending of taxpayers' money in Region 9 has cut across other regions and where the system designed to prevent abuses has gone wrong. And they want someone held accountable for squandering taxpayer money.
This is about the waste of taxpayer dollars, and if you can sense my anger and frustration, you should see it at home, where we have got double-digit unemployment, the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, people out of work - twice the national average, said Rep. Jeff Denham, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who represents a district in Central California.
A Lot Of Waste In The GSA
A lawmaker on Tuesday said that one member of the GSA's regional commission spent 17 days in the South Pacific, and that the private sector doesn't work in that manner.
I think it's time we start talking about what we do instead of the GSA because there are a lot of waste in the GSA, said Lou Barletta, a Republican member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He added that the more than $800,000 spent by the agency should be a farewell party.
The Transportation Committee has said that since 2011 it has been requesting detailed information from the GSA regarding the unexplained increases in the agency's budget in recent years.
On April 2 this year, Inspector General Brian Miller released a report that revealed that in 2010 the GSA spent more than $800,000 in taxpayers' money for a conference in Las Vegas. Public money also paid for clothing for GSA employees, tuxedo rentals, and more.
Lawmakers are also particularly concerned about the waste that occurred in the forms of hats off rewards, for which GSA employees were given iPods and other electronics, and gift cards on the taxpayers' dime.
Somebody needs to be held accountable, said Democratic Congressman Tim Walz.
Lawmakers are also trying to understand how a $9,000 cash bonus was paid to Jeffrey Neely, the regional executive responsible for the conference -- while federal employees were facing a pay freeze.
Neely was not at Tuesday's hearing. He exercised his right to remain silent at Monday's hearing, conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The GSA is the principal procurement agency for the federal government, acquiring office space, vehicles and supplies, with more than 12,000 employees and a budget of more than $26 billion.
The scandal came to light after GSA Deputy Administrator Susan Brita blew the whistle by asking Inspector General Miller to investigate the 2010 conference. She also shared her concerns with Robert Peck, the former commissioner of the Public Buildings Service.
Following the investigation, administrator Martha Johnson resigned April 2. Two others, including Peck, were fired. Several employees have been placed on administrative leave.
Brita told lawmakers that she shared their anger and disappointment in GSA's conduct.
When asked about a $30,000 pool party, Peck said he wasn't aware of the cost and that he thought it was part of a package provided by the hotel.
Johnson has since apologized for to the public for the excess.
As the head of the Agency, I am responsible, she said at the initial hearing on Monday.
According to her testimony, in the late 1990s the Western Regions' Conference was usually economical, straightforward set of training sessions. She said that have since evolved into a raucous, extravagant, arrogant, self-congratulatory event that ultimately belittled federal workers and would stain the very work that other committed staff and I were preparing to do.
Steps Toward Repayment
Brita said steps are being taken to recover taxpayers' money, which include billing executives for money spent on private parties and other personal benefits.
Fox News reported that an initial bill of $5,600 has been sent in the form of invoices to three top officials. The largest bill, for $2,717.09, reportedly went to Neely.
Watch the hearing in the video below: