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Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee holding the second of four congressional hearings into a lavish General Services Administration conference, questioned Tuesday whether the agency should exist.
During fiery opening remarks, Denham trained his sights on rampant spending within the agency, spiraling conference budgets, and GSA’s reluctance to disclose its full budget, which he had requested in the past.
“If this continues to go on, you continue this kind of spending we will continue to audit,” Denham said. “I am prepared to systematically pull apart GSA to the point I’ll question whether GSA is needed at all.”
Alison Doone, GSA’s chief financial officer said the agency has consolidated all regional budgets under her purview as a response to rapidly increasing conference budgets.
Jeffrey Neely, the acting Region 9 commissioner, who invoked his Fifth Amendment rights during testimony Monday, was not present.
“The only way we’ll be able to see him is on a video in a hot tub,” said Rep. John Mica, chairman of the full House and Transportation Committee, noting images of Neely resting in a hot tub at a Las Vegas hotel suite.
Concerns over Neely’s travel were brought to the attention of GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson last year, but that did not prevent further trips, said the agency’s deputy director Susan Brita. Johnson resigned before the Inspector General Brian Miller’s scathing report on the spending scandal.
Miller informed Brita about Neely’s excessive travel, and Brita alerted Johnson and Ruth Cox, commissioner of the Pacific Rim region.
The House subcommittee that oversees public buildings detailed trips to Atlanta, Hawaii and Napa Valley, Calif.
In March 2011, for example, Neely attended a four day off-site meeting in Napa Valley, Calif., which cost more than $40,000 for food and other non-travel related expenses, according to testimony. And as recently as February, he traveled to Hawaii, Guam and Saipan.
The 2010 training conference at the center of the GSA scandal cost more than $800,000.
A decentralized GSA budget structure contributed to rampant spending within the agency’s Pacific Rim region, GSA officials told Congress.
“I was very concerned about this decentralization,” Doone said.
Noted Brita, “Under the decentralized structure it would be very difficult for people in central office to find out (about excessive spending).”
Acting GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini has put all budget authority under Doone’s purview.