Denham: GSA must 'justify their existence'

Thursday - 4/19/2012, 10:29am EDT

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)

Download mp3

Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.)

Download mp3

Current and former General Services Administration officials faced tough questioning from lawmakers this week on a $823,000 tab to taxpayers for a 2010 Las Vegas conference. But this example of "lavish" spending is only the latest incident in the "horrible track record" at GSA and raises the question if the agency needs to be restructured — or dismantled altogether.

"They need to justify what they're doing," Denham said of GSA in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose. "They've had a horrible track record of liquidating properties, horrible track record of redeveloping properties, and they don't maximize the value of their vehicle fleet or a number of other things they take charge of."

In a Tuesday hearing on the GSA spending chair, Denham, who is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on public buildings, issued this warning: "If we continue to ... see this type of spending, we will continue to audit. If we continue to see that you are not giving us information on a bipartisan level to show us how these expenditures are happening, I am prepared to systematically pull apart GSA to the point where we will make it a question to the American public of whether GSA is needed at all."

In his In Depth interview, Denham said GSA's work should be outsourced if the agency cannot prove that its problems have been fixed. That proof will require transparency through GSA budget reports.

"We're going to continue to investigate, inquire and demand information, so that we can rebuild public trust," he said.

Part of GSA's challenge is its management and oversight structure. In testimony at the hearing, GSA Inspector General Brian Miller described the structure as a "matrix." Regional commissioners were in charge of their regions, with little accountability to Washington.

"Essentially, what we learned was the fault may lie in the very structure of the agency, which undermines the control of everything from finances to policy from Washington," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, in an interview with In Depth.

Norton downplayed Denham's statements about pulling apart GSA, she assumed, were a metaphor. "I think it was simply an expression of his anger that this could have gone on," she said.

But GSA still has to be taken to task on the issue of accountability. "I think this is a question of that kind of control, of making sure they're in place and that the agency is structured so you know where the accountability is," Norton said.

RELATED STORIES

Analysis: GSA's scandal pales in comparison to historical misdeeds

TIMELINE: GSA scandal in perspective

Latest: GSA IG makes a 'criminal referral' to Justice

More coverage of the Shakeup at GSA