Investigation into GSA Expenditures Begins, Continues Throughout Week
Following a report that revealed it spent $20,000 of taxpayer dollars on promotional gifts for its employees for a 2010 conference, a Congressional committee accused the General Services Administration of a "gross abuse of taxpayer funds" on Monday.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee began hearings on the GSA's excessive spending, which made headlines last week after an investigation by the United States Inspector General uncovered over $820,000 spent on a single Las Vegas conference. In addition to the $20,000 spent on commemorative gifts, which violates the agency's policy, the GSA spent nearly $150,000 on food and $75,000 on a "team building exercise" for 300 government employees.
The New York Times reported that some of the commemorative coins and other souvenirs given out at the Las Vegas meeting were manufactured in China. One lawmaker in the committee criticized the organization for not only spending taxpayer dollars on gifts for its employees, but for having the nerve to buy and disperse items not made in America.
Witnesses included former GSA administration Martha Johnson, who terminated her two top advisors before retiring due to the scandal, as well as Jeffrey Neely, who planned the Las Vegas event. Neely, along with nine other GSA officials, are on paid administrative leave pending a decision by the committee.
When asked any question by the committee, including what his title with the GSA is, Neely responded, "On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer based upon my Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege."
Separately, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure revealed that the GSA's "Hats Off" award program had been abused to give federal employees hundreds of thousands of dollars in iPods, gift cards and promotional items. The program, which would allow employees to give credits to one another for good work and redeem them for GSA-logoed items, had been used to work around a $99 per-employee limit set by the agency.