The Inspector General for the General Services Administration (GSA), on Monday said he is investigating other possbile improprieties at the agency, including bribery and kickbacks.
The GSA has been under scrutiny following a report from its inspector general, Brian Miller, earlier this month, which revealed that approximately $823,000 was unnecessarily spent at a Las Vegas conference in 2010.
More than $136,000 was spent on traveling, catering, vendors and other hotel costs before the conference, the report noted. Additionally, $686,247 was spent on the conference for traveling catering and on vendors.
Many of the expenditures on this conference were excessive and wasteful and that in many instances GSA followed neither federal procurement laws nor its own policy on conference spending, the Office of the Inspector General found. Conference costs included eight off-site planning meetings and significant food and beverage costs.
The Public Building Services of the GSA held a biennial Western Regions Conference with nearly 300 people in attendance in October 2010 at the M Resort Spa Casino outside Las Vegas. In order to select a venue and planned the conference, the inspector general office found that employees conducted two scouting trips, five off-site planning meetings and a dry run.
The report noted that six of the planning events were held at the M Resort. The Office of the Inspector General also found that the GSA spent money on refreshment breaks during the planning meetings. This wasn't within the agency's authority and it exceeded per diem limits.
Now lawmakers are left puzzled as to why exactly the GSA, an agency tasked with ensuring there is no government waste, didn't have a watch dog preventing the squandering of taxpayers' money.
The GSA is the principal procurement agency for the federal government. It acquires office space, vehicles and supplies to facilitate for government operations. With more than 12,000 employees, the GSA's budget is more than $26 billion.
We do have other ongoing investigations, including all sorts of improprieties, including bribes, including possible kickbacks, Miller told lawmakers during a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The hearing, which was live streamed, is the first of four to be held this week.
The two House and two Senate committees will be inquiring about the more than $800,000 in excessive spending and are expected to probe beyond the one incident to determine if there is a culture of overspending and waste at the GSA.
Neely Pleads The Fifth
Jeffrey Neely, who was a regional executive in Western states, is at the center of the spending scandal. He was responsible for the Las Vegas conference and has since been placed on leave. Neely on Monday, asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege before the committee.
Mr. Chairman, on the advice of council I respectfully decline to answer based upon my Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege, Neely said in response to questions from committee chairman U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
U.S. taxpayers picked up the tab for attendees mementos, clothing for GSA employees, tuxedo rentals and other items some which were reportedly not bought in the U.S.
GSA's former administrator Martha Johnson resigned on April 2, as a result. She apologized to lawmakers and the nation during Monday's hearing.
I personally apologize to the American people for the entire situation, Johnson said. As the head of the Agency, I am responsible.
Johnson also added that she deeply regrets that the good work of the agency has been tainted by the spending scandal. She said the loss of her appointment is something she will mourn for the rest of her life. Johnson said she resigned to make way for a new team to lead the agency toward rebuilding itself.
Johnson served at GSA for five years in the Clinton Administration. She returned in February 2010. The former administrator said upon her return to the agency, she found that the Western Regions' Conference, usually an economical, straightforward set of training sessions in the late 1990's, had 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.
The Oversight System Worked
While the lawmakers continue to investigate and seek answers to how taxpayers' money was spent, Miller said there is some good news among the bad.
The oversight system worked, he said, noting that his office worked aggressively to produce the report which led to the hearings. The whole ugly event now lay bare for all to see.
GSA coverage schedule is as follows:
- Tuesday 8:30 a.m. EDT, by the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings, and emergency management.
- Wednesday 10 a.m. EDT, by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
- Wednesday 2:30 p.m. EDT, by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government.