Sen. McCaskill gives GSA deadline for bonus program details

Tuesday - 4/10/2012, 4:19pm EDT

Audio of Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini's message

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Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is expanding her investigation into the allegations of excessive spending and waste at the General Services Administration's Public Building Service.

The Missouri Democrat sent a letter to acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini asking for a briefing before April 27 on which senior officials named in the scathing inspector general report received bonuses and how much money they got between 2008 and 2011.

McCaskill, the chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, has been looking at the awards program, called "Hats Off" since 2010.

"I have previously raised concerns regarding GSA's award of bonuses," McCaskill wrote in the letter. "At the subcommittee's March 1, 2011 hearing into GSA's award and management of contracts for public relations services, I noted that the Regional Commissioner for Region 6 had received a bonus despite adverse findings regarding her conduct by the inspector general. I subsequently learned that the Regional Commissioner received a bonus for 2011, despite an ongoing inspector general investigation which ultimately found that some of her testimony before the subcommittee contained misstatements of fact."

McCaskill said several officials mentioned in the IG report, which exposed a PBS conference costing $822,000 in Nevada in October 2010, received bonuses ranging from $500 to $1,500 for their contribution to the conference.

"The subcommittee has also learned that the Regional Commissioner for Region 9 received approximately $9,000 for his performance in 2011," McCaskill wrote. "Although the Senior Executive Service bonus review committee, which was aware of the Inspector General's findings, recommended that he should not receive any bonus for the year, their recommendation was overruled by senior GSA leadership, including former GSA Public Buildings Service Commissioner Robert Peck."

GSA video of Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini

GSA Administrator Martha Johnson fired Peck and Stephen Leeds, a senior adviser, and then resigned in the wake of the IG report.

The agency also placed deputy PBS Commissioner David Foley on administrative leave during the investigation into his role with the conference.

Tangherlini said in a video posted on YouTube by GSA Tuesday that the agency has implemented several new accountability measures to ensure future spending on conferences meet government and agency policy.

"We've initiated a complete agencywide review of all conferences and events. We are evaluating the way in which we use our resources," he said in the video. "We are identifying ways to be more efficient and effective stewards of taxpayer's dollars."

Tangherlini said GSA also suspended the "Hats Off" bonus program pending a top-down review of all agency spending.

"This is clear expression to our customers and the taxpayers that GSA employees understand that serving our customers well is reward enough," he said. "It is a signal that our commitment is to our service, our duty and our nation, and not to conferences, awards or parties."

McCaskill cites 'culture' of bonus, incentive spending

But McCaskill asks if the new oversight is enough.

"I have concerns regarding whether these steps are sufficient to address GSA's culture of providing cash bonuses and 'incentives' to officials who are the subjects and/or targets of ongoing investigations by the inspector general," she wrote.

McCaskill has yet to announce a hearing on the IG report, but there are two scheduled in the House and one in the Senate for next week.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing Monday at 1:30 p.m. and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing April 17 at 8:30 a.m. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also will hold a hearing April 18 at 10 a.m.

Tangherlini encouraged citizens to read the IG report.

"What took place was completely unacceptable. There were violations of travel rules, acquisition rules and good conduct," he said. "Just as importantly, those responsible violated rules of common sense, the spirit of public service and the trust that America's taxpayers have placed in all of us."

He said the steps GSA is taking will make sure "this kind of abuse never happens again."

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