House probes 'questionable' spending on GSA awards

Friday - 4/6/2012, 4:43pm EDT

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif). on "In Depth" with Francis Rose

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By Gillian Brockell
Federal News Radio

Several congressmen have lashed out at the scandal-plagued General Services Administration after another investigation — this one examining excessive spending on an awards program — has surfaced.

Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), first directed attention toward GSA's "Hats Off" program Wednesday. Under the program, employees were awarded electronics and gift cards worth nearly $440,000 dollars over three years, the lawmakers said.

"There must be serious consequences for this type of blatant waste of taxpayer dollars, and the committee intends to hold those responsible fully accountable," Denham said, following a briefing from GSA Inspector General Brian Miller, whose office conducted the investigation.

The awards program took place in the Public Buildings Service's Pacific Rim Region — the same region where a lavish Las Vegas conference was held in 2010. That conference led to the resignation of GSA head Martha Johnson and the firing of two other high-level officials this week.

Between 2007 and 2010, the agency spent $438,750 on "lavish gifts," according to a release from Mica and Denham's office. The average gift per buildings service employee was $328 in fiscal-year 2009, which far outstrips a $99 limit set by the agency.

In a statement, GSA said the program had ended. "Operations have been suspended pending a continuing top down review of all spending," the statement said, according to the Associated Press.

Report: Prizes have grown more expensive

Denham and Mica had requested a copy of the full report earlier this week.

The Hats Off program, which began in 2001, originally awarded smaller prizes, such as mugs and mousepads. Over time, Mica and Denham say, pricier items, such as iPods and other electronics, were added to the program.

Mica, the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the awards program "degenerated into a taxpayer funded give away where employees handed out iPods to their office buddies for almost any reason."

The IG report, as characterized by the lawmakers, found that managers who ran the Hats Off program often awarded themselves them top prizes. The IG also found inconsistent record-keeping of award recipients and gaps in security for prizes kept in storage.

In fact, the program first piqued the interest of investigators when the Homeland Security Department's Federal Protective Service reported what it turned out to 115 missing iPods valued at $20,000.

"The arrogance of giving away a grab bag of free stuff to its employees instead of effectively managing our federal properties is a disgrace," said Denham, who chairs a House subcommittee on public buildings.

Denham has scheduled a subcommittee hearing for April 19 to discuss excessive spending by GSA.

Denham told In Depth with Francis Rose every taxpayer should be "outraged" at the revelations about spending at the Las Vegas conference.

"It's not just the amount of money that was spent — over a million dollars — but the egregious acts and how it was spent," he said.

(Federal News Radio's Jack Moore contributed to this story)

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