The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin (Ill.), said today he plans to hold a hearing to investigate the scandal at the General Services Administration that led to the agency head’s resignation earlier this week as part of the agency’s annual review.
Durbin is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which has a role in overseeing the GSA through approving its funding. The agency came under fire after it was revealed that it spent $823,000 on an October 2010 conference at a Las Vegas-area spa and casino.
“We are going to have a hearing as to what actually happened here,” Durbin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” of the controversy that led to GSA chief Martha Johnson’s resignation April 3.
“It’s an absolutely outrageous expenditure of the taxpayers’ money,” the Illinois Democrat continued. “The White House made it clear the group in charge was going to be dismissed and resigned, and they did. So we’ve got to say whether it’s Democrats or Republicans. ... That kind of use of taxpayer funds is unacceptable.”
A Durbin spokesman later clarified that Durbin did not mean he would hold a separate hearing on the matter. The spokesman said that the panel has had a hearing on the GSA budget scheduled “for some time as part of the subcommittee’s regular oversight of agency budgets,” and it was “planned before reports of the GSA’s outrageous misuse of taxpayer money surfaced.”
The GSA is responsible for renting and managing properties on behalf of federal government agencies, and it holds regular conferences for its employees. Many lawmakers of both parties have been quick to criticize the extreme costs of the GSA Vegas event, which included a $146,527 food bill inflated by $4-a-pop shrimp appetizers and breakfasts for all conference-goers that exceeded costs of $30 per attendee.
Earlier this week, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) announced his panel also would hold a hearing to investigate the GSA conference.
“It is outrageous that this agency, which costs the taxpayers billions because it’s sitting on its assets, would spend nearly a million dollars on a Vegas junket,” Mica said in a statement. “The tab even included a clown for entertainment. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have been trying to get the administrative costs from the agency and now we see why they have been stonewalling.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.