From left: GSA Inspector General Brian Miller; former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson; Jeff Neely, regional commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, Pacific Rim Region; GSA Chief of Staff Michael Robertson; and David Foley, deputy commissioner of the GSA Public Buildings Service, are sworn in before Mondays testimony.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today kicked off the first of many hearings about spending practices at the General Services Administration, focusing on why a key official involved with planning a lavish Las Vegas conference was awarded a $9,000 bonus after the agency’s former administrator had been briefed about the practices.
“Thank God that this time, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas,” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said.
Jeff Neely, the GSA official who helped organize the conference and was awarded the bonus, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, declining to answer repeated questions from Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Testimony at the hearing by GSA Inspector General Brian Miller revealed new allegations that Neely intimidated employees who tried to blow the whistle about the extravagant expenses.
GSA employees told Miller that those who spoke up about the abuses were, in their words, “squashed like a bug” by Neely or “put down, and not in a gentle way.”
Martha Johnson, who served as administrator until resigning April 2, when Miller’s report became public, said that morale and leadership at the agency had deteriorated between when she served there during the Clinton administration and when she went back early in the Obama administration.
“The agency was not the same. A quarter of the executive positions were empty, [and] strategy was nonexistent,” Johnson said.
“What I did not know until much later was that there was yet another problem. The Western Regions Conference, which had been an economical, straightforward set of training sessions in the late 1990s, had evolved into a raucous, extravagant, arrogant, self-congratulatory event that ultimately belittled federal workers and would stain the very work that other committed staff and I were preparing to do.”
Miller said he briefed Johnson on details about the almost $800,000 conference in May 2011. A PowerPoint presentation used for briefing top officials at a May 3 meeting includes details about Neely’s visits to Las Vegas numerous times ahead of the conference for “planning” purposes and that he “advocated” a $75,000 training exercise where teams of GSA employees constructed 25 bicycles.
In November 2011, Johnson personally approved a bonus for Neely.
Asked about why she would award Neely a bonus after she had been briefed about the conference, Johnson said the bonus was for the performance of the regional office Neely was overseeing as acting administrator, not for the ongoing investigation into his “conduct.”