And the official, Jeffrey E. Neely, told investigators that a private party he threw in his Las Vegas hotel suite for $2,717 was an employee-awards event.
Neely’s conduct as the organizer of a four-day team-building event that cost $823,000 will be under scrutiny on Capitol Hill starting Monday, when the first of four back-to-back congressional hearings is scheduled.
Neely, a career civil servant who coordinated the “Western Regions” conference for the GSA’s Public Buildings Service, emerges in the transcripts as a competitive, innovative manager in a federal agency that prides itself on a private-sector sensibility.
But critics say Neely and his deputies went too far and made questionable expenditures of taxpayer dollars.
The transcripts provide evidence of a freewheeling spending culture in the offices of the four Pacific Rim states where Neely oversaw federal real estate and government purchasing.
“What this guy did was try to use private business practices to justify spending that is out of line with the private sector,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), one of numerous lawmakers asking how things spun out of control with no oversight from Washington.
“This notion that you can have over-the-top conferences with all kind of bells and whistles because you’re emulating the private sector is nonsense,” said McCaskill, who reprimanded GSA leaders in another region last year for spending on a no-bid public-relations campaign to manage publicity over potential environmental contamination at a federal office complex in Kansas City, Mo. “They thought they were above scrutiny,” she said of Neely and his staff.
During his final interview with Neely in March, an investigator said it appeared that the GSA needed a “culture change.”
Neely, 57, who has been subpoenaed, is expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Monday. His attorney, Preston Burton, declined to comment Sunday.
The interviews of Neely and other GSA officials were the basis for the inspector general’s scathing report released earlier this month.
Inspector General Brian D. Miller last week asked the Department of Justice to investigate contract improprieties and other matters surrounding the conference for 300 employees at the M Resort Spa Casino. The tab came to almost $600,000 over the event budget, according to the transcripts. Miller has also asked that Neely be investigated for his personal use of electronic items designated for an employee reward program.