Analysis: Further actions against GSA commissioners remain a possibility

Thursday - 4/5/2012, 10:21am EDT

Debra Roth, partner, Shaw, Bransford and Roth

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Though the scandal that rocked the General Services Administration last week centered around senior political appointees forced out by the findings of the inspector general's report, it was four career managers who were accused of violating acquisition laws and regulations.

The four regional commissioners are on leave and may also lose their jobs. But could they face other charges, possibly criminal in nature?

"They spent $820,000, it sounds like, just having a party in Vegas," said Debra Roth, partner at Shaw, Bransford and Roth. "That is so offensive to most Americans that feel that that kind of waste of dollars in and of itself should be a crime."

Debra Roth, partner, Shaw, Bransford and Roth

Roth told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp Thursday that even though it seems like the four civil servants might have committed wrongdoings, that doesn't mean they'll face criminal prosecution.

"The report itself doesn't say those irregularities were anything other than violations of GSA's own contracting regulations," Roth said. "You don't get a sense yet that the IG finds any potential criminality, but they're not done."

At just 23 pages in length, the IG report only refers to one of the regional commissioners by title and not by name. "It talks about waste in very broad stokes," Roth said. "My guess is they're working on a far more detailed report."

If the IG investigates beyond disciplinary actions, whether the commissioners broke any actual criminal laws, the evidence could be used by the Department of Justice in federal court to bring criminal charges.

"The IG's mission in every agency is [identifying] fraud, waste and abuse," Roth said. "When you read the report, it's waste and abuse everywhere. What you don't see is the word 'fraud.'"

For those familiar with the workings of Washington, D.C., the process is familiar and fairly predictable, Roth said. Most people who end up being prosecuted are usually being prosecuted because of how they answered questions when called in by federal investigators.

"The question will become whether they think anyone has intentionally misled or lied to them in the course of the investigation," Ross said.

Following President Clinton's impeachment proceedings, which hinged on whether he had lied to investigators or not, the government's focus on career civil servants has shifted.

"Before then, in most instances, you were not prosecuted for intentionally lying, for putting out false information to federal investigators," Roth said. "Post the impeachment, you could probably count on it. It's certainly where inspector generals focus their effort making criminal cases."

If it turns out the IG's investigation reveals any or all of the commissioners lied to investigators, then criminal charges could be filed.

"The actual waste, just utter waste of money, federal taxpayer money, is not criminal in and of itself, but you kind of get the sense that Americans feel it should be at this point," Roth said.

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