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Congress Ready to Keep Eye on GSA

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.

The OIG initially revealed in an April 2 report that the agency spent about $823,000 on an October 2010 Las Vegas conference for about 300 people, along with a series of colorful expenses that drove up the cost.

After the revelation, Johnson resigned, two of her top aides were fired, and four other managers were placed on leave.

According to documents obtained by Roll Call, GSA officials invented awards as an excuse to hold taxpayer-funded dinner events at conferences.

At one such event, the agency bestowed the “jackass award” on an employee, a GSA employee told the OIG, according to an interview transcript.

In the transcript, a GSA employee who attended the Las Vegas conference said officials routinely created awards to justify taxpayer reimbursement for dinner events.

“Typically at any — any conference in my memory over the last three or four years, probably even further back, there was always — there’s always one night where we have an awards ceremony and people are fed,” the employee said.

Describing the award ceremonies as a “running joke,” the employee said supervisors explained that the fake awards were designed to justify dinner events at the conferences.

“He says: ‘OK, everybody, just remember, the only way we can have food is if we have an awards ceremony.’ Maybe not in those exact words, but fairly similar,” the employee said.

At one conference, “I just remember one year like someone got like the jackass award or something for doing something stupid,” the employee said.

“The jackass award got everybody food?” the inspector general asked.

“Oh, yeah,” the employee said.

House Republicans say the “jackass award” and other revelations in interviews conducted by the inspector general show that the problem is deeper than the Las Vegas conference.

“GSA has been using tax dollars as a slush fund to pay for lavish parties and exotic vacations. From what we’re learning, GSA has a whole laundry list of instances where they were abusing taxpayer dollars. This goes a lot farther and a lot deeper than what we’ve seen,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee with jurisdiction over the GSA.

Dan Tangherlini, acting director of the GSA, issued an April 10 message via video that the expenditures at the conference were “completely unacceptable.”

“I speak for the overwhelming majority of GSA staff when I say that we are shocked and deeply disappointed by these indefensible actions,” Tangherlini said, outlining several steps the agency is taking to ensure wasteful spending at conferences does not happen again.

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