If you are a government scandal junkie, this is the week to get your fix.
Even as Congress was preparing a marathon set of hearings into an overboard General Services Administration (GSA) conference, the Secret Service got caught in a sex scandal.
Eleven agents were recalled from Colombia, where they were part of President Obama’s advance team, because they were found with prostitutes.
Congress probably will soon summon top management to explain this embarrassment.
But the first mess on the congressional calendar belongs to the GSA.
Four congressional committees will hold hearings on the 2010 GSA gathering outside Las Vegas that was the subject of a recent inspector general report on excessive spending and one senator has called for yet another hearing. The report resulted in three top GSA officials losing their jobs and the suspension of five others, pending further disciplinary action, including one facing possible criminal investigation.
The four hearings will be held:
Monday, 1:30 p.m., by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Tuesday 8:30 a.m., by the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management.
Wednesday 10 a.m., by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Wednesday 2:30 p.m., by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government.
The titles of the hearing indicate the dominant political party in each chamber.
In the Republican-controlled House, the titles of the hearings are “Addressing GSA’s Culture of Wasteful Spending,” for the Oversight and Government Reform session, and “GSA’s Squandering of Taxpayer Dollars: A Pattern of Mismanagement, Excess, and Waste” for the Tuesday panel.
Democrats controlling the Senate used blander, more straightforward wording: “Oversight hearing on the General Services Administration” for the Wednesday morning hearing and “General Services Administration: A Review of the Recent Inspector General Management Deficiency Report and An Assessment of the Fiscal Year 2013 GSA Funding Request” for the Appropriations hearing.
Any attempt by Democrats to place the GSA scandal in the context of a big jump in agency conference spending under the Bush administration has been blunted by House Republicans. On April 6, Politico, citing a government source, reported that the costs of similar conferences jumped from $93,000 in 2004 to $323,855 in 2006, a 248 percent increase. But days later, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said the actual cost of the 2004 event was $401,024, meaning costs fell for the 2006 gathering.
On Thursday, Politico said a senior administration official didn’t dispute the committee’s numbers, but added that the official also noted that the cost of the GSA conferences more than doubled from 2006 to 2008.
Even with four GSA sessions this week, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) apparently believes that there is a need for more. She wrote to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asking him to schedule a hearing, because “our Committee is uniquely situated to examine what appear to be numerous violations of acquisition rules and policy identified by GSA’s Inspector General.”
On Friday, a spokeswoman for Lieberman said he “is overseas and observing Passover. He will make a decision when he returns.”