Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) has introduced legislation that would require an annual audit of the General Services Administration’s public buildings fund.
In remarks on the House floor this week, Denham called into question the $10 billion federal buildings fund, which GSA uses to pay for acquisitions and operations of government-owned buildings.
“It is unacceptable that the corruption, fraud and waste within GSA, an agency that has nearly a $10 billion slush fund,
remains hidden from the American taxpayers every single year,” Denham said.
His bill comes amid a GSA spending scandal that resulted in the resignation of the agency’s administrator, Martha Johnson, and the firing of two top deputies. Ten other employees have been placed on administrative leave, pending further disciplinary action.
Last week, Denham chaired a House inquiry into the scandal in which the agency’s Western Region spent nearly a million dollars on a 2010 training conference in Las Vegas. The GSA’s inspector general exposed the case in a scathing report this month.
During the hearing before the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee — one of four congressional panels on GSA last week — Denham and other lawmakers grilled current and former officials regarding the conference, as well as management’s decisions after learning of the inspector general’s initial findings.
“As previously stated, GSA is conducting a top-down review of our agency’s operations,” said GSA spokesman Adam Elkington. “This comprehensive review of our agency operations includes the public building fund.”
But the scandal has opened the door to a host of other longstanding complaints against the agency, which has among its responsibilities the management of federal buildings. And lawmakers have been taking full advantage of the chance to get those complaints aired and amplified.
Denham and the full committee chairman, Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), have long focused on the agency’s handling of federal properties, saying too many of those buildings remain underutilized or vacant.
Almost immediately after news of the GSA 2010 conference broke, Mica released a statement linking the building issue: “This conference scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, and GSA has not only been sitting on thousands of unused or underutilized federal properties, but it’s been stonewalling our committee’s requests for information about significant but unexplained increases in its administrative costs,” the statement said.
At last week’s hearing, Denham focused a good measure of his frustration on Robert Peck, GSA’s former Public Buildings Service commissioner and one of Johnson’s fired deputies.
Denham criticized Peck for approving a raise for Jeff Neely, the GSA official at the center of the conference debacle. Peck replied that the raise was appropriate and the investigation was incomplete at that time.
But Denham also focused on buildings, chastising the former administrator for not disclosing the building fund budget, despite, Denham said, being asked multiple times.
Now the lawmaker is hoping to make traction with his bill.