Lawmakers upset over new revelations of GSA spending

Thursday - 7/19/2012, 3:38pm EDT

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Lawmakers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are upset over new disclosures about spending at the General Services Administration.

At a press conference Thursday, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the committee chairman, provided details from an ongoing internal GSA investigation that revealed one of the agency's divisions spent more than $268,000 on an awards ceremony held in the Washington, D.C., area in November 2010.

GSA's Federal Acquisition Service spent more than $34,000 to host the one-day event at the Crystal Gateway Marriot in Crystal City, Va, according to a letter from GSA's inspector general Brian Miller.

The agency charged $20,000 for catering, $41,000 for travel for 49 attendees and $20,000 on drumsticks, for a drum-band exercise coordinated by a third-party vendor. Other costs included a paying for a violinist and guitarist at the a commissioner's reception and more than $28,000 for picture frames.

Miller, who said his office was alerted to the spending by Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, said he has opened an administrative investigation into the matter.

House probe coming

At the press conference, Mica said the Transportation committee will launch its own investigation of the spending in addition to the IG probe.

"We're slowly uncovering again the incredible abuses that took place," Mica said. "And they have thwarted almost consistently our requests."

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), the chairman of the subcommittee with oversight over GSA's Public Buildings Service, said the latest revelations are proof that wasteful spending is not limited to one section of GSA or even confined to the agency itself.

"We believe this is governmentwide," Denham said. "Certainly this is a culture within GSA. In this case, rather than mindreaders and clowns, they've got guitarists and violinists ... They're classing up their act, but it's still a blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars."

Tangherlini 'leaving no stone unturned'

In a statement, GSA Communications Director Betsaida Alcantara said the agency no longer tolerates either that type of spending or event, which dates to 2002. Since April 15, all spending for conferences and ceremonies has been suspended she said.

Earlier this week, Tangerlini announced the agency was cutting performance awards for most senior executives for fiscal 2012 and 2013 and suspending all such awards given out in the administrator's office for the rest of 2012. A top-to-bottom review uncovered "clear deficiencies" in the awarding of bonuses, Tangherlini said.

"The new leadership at the GSA is leaving no stone unturned in investigating any misuse of taxpayer dollars," Alcantara said. "When we find serious issues we refer them to the Office of Inspector General, as we did in this case. "

Former official faults leadership

In April, revelations of an $800,000 regional GSA conference held outside Las Vegas in 2010 rocked the agency and led to high-level firings and resignations. Former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson fired her two top deputies and resigned.

One former FAS official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of this issue, pointed the finger directly at Johnson as the reason for these lavish spending conferences.

The former official said Johnson set the tone and the expectation to have "fun" and "social" conferences instead of straight business events.

The former official said Johnson believed large IT companies such as Google or Microsoft would have these types of events so GSA should too.

Another former FAS official said the organization created an environment where bonuses were given high priority. The official said, while they didn't attend the November 2010 conference, the official didn't remember previous years' performance-award conferences that were this lavish.

"It was always in Crystal City because that is where FAS employees were," the sources said. "It was a half-day event. There was a light breakfast, coffee and a little to eat, and then there was an event. There was always some motivational speaker, but it wasn't a big deal."

Federal News Radio Executive Editor Jason Miller contributed to this report.

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