Miller’s revelations of possible further misconduct by organizers of the four-day event, coming on the heels of a highly critical report, enraged Democrats and Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The lawmakers put GSA officials on the defensive during a tense four-hour hearing, with some Republicans loudly rebuking former administrator Martha N. Johnson and her colleagues.
GOP lawmakers argued that the excessive spending proves their case for smaller government. Taxpayers picked up the tab for a mind reader, bicycles for a team-building exercise and a slew of private parties at the conference.
“There are those who believe government’s reach should be expanded,” committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in his opening statement. “What has come to light surrounding GSA’s activities should give pause to anyone who has opposed cutting government size and spending.”
But Democrats joined him in condemning the outsized tab for the conference, with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, calling it “indefensible” and “intolerable.”
“It’s not your money, it’s the taxpayers’ money,” Cummings scolded agency officials.
Johnson, speaking publicly for the first time since her abrupt resignation last week, called the biennial Western Regions Conference a “raucous, extravagant, arrogant, self-congratulatory event that ultimately belittled federal workers.” Closing her testimony, she said, “I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my appointment.”
GSA officials received warnings that regional commissioner Jeffrey Neely’s spending was problematic, a witness revealed in the April 17 hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Timothy R. Smith reported in Federal Eye:
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 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.