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Congress Ready to Keep Eye on GSA

Expensive Conference and Taxpayer-Funded Dinners Raise Eyebrows, Oversight Concerns

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (right) is one of a handful of Members looking into wasteful spending at the General Services Administration.

Four Congressional committees are planning to grill current and former General Services Administration officials this week about a lavish Las Vegas conference held in 2010, even as details continue to emerge about the agency’s spending habits.

New documents obtained by Roll Call show the GSA’s Region 9 headquarters in San Francisco, which organized the now-infamous Las Vegas conference, owns a facility suitable for a conference but spent hundreds of thousands of dollars renting out hotels and other venues for business meetings in the city.

The GSA booked the other venues because if it used its facility, “some people would be distracted” and “run up to their offices,” a GSA employee told the agency’s Office of Inspector General, according to an interview transcript. The employee said the agency spent $220,000 booking hotels for the business meetings rather than using its own facility.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) will begin the oversight pile-on at 1:30 p.m. Monday. Witnesses at the hearing include Martha Johnson, the former GSA administrator who resigned in the wake of the OIG report; Jeff Neely, the regional commissioner who ran the San Francisco office and helped organize the conference; and Michael Robertson, the GSA chief of staff.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the GSA, is holding a hearing Tuesday.

On the Senate side, Mica’s counterpart, Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), has scheduled a Wednesday hearing about the scandal. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, is holding a hearing on the topic on Wednesday as well.

The hearings unfold as the GSA faces more bad news — the OIG this week referred the matter to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution. That news, confirmed by Roll Call, was first reported by the Federal Times.

House Republicans said Friday that Neely received a $9,000 bonus last summer, a period during which the Las Vegas conference, as well as a separate program headed by Neely, was under investigation.

In an email to superiors reviewed by Roll Call, Neely said he “expect[ed]” to receive a score of 4 out of 5 from a performance review board and the bonus that came with it.

“I think the regions [sic] 2011 performance was pretty amazing,” Neely wrote.

Robertson, the agency’s chief of staff, could also be of particular interest to Republicans presiding over the committee because he previously served as legislative coordinator for then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

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