Jeffrey Neely, who organized lavish GSA conference, leaves agency

Jeffrey E. Neely, the embattled General Services Administration regional commissioner who planned a lavish employee conference in Las Vegas that cost more than $800,000, left the agency Thursday, a GSA spokesman said.

Neely, the public buildings commissioner for the Pacific Rim region, had been on administrative leave since early April after an inspector general inquiry found rampant waste and abuse associated with the 2010 event. At the time of the conference, Neely was acting regional commissioner.

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News of the overspending led to the resignation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and the firing of her two top lieutenants. Nine other employees were placed on administrative leave.

“GSA is in the process of completing its review of activities associated with the Western Regions Conference and pursuing all available avenues for appropriate disciplinary action against those responsible,” the GSA spokesman said. “Jeff Neely was placed on administrative leave based on his involvement in the WRC. As of today, he’s no longer employed with GSA.”  

Neither Neely nor his attorney returned calls seeking comment Thursday.

The inspector general’s office has asked the Justice Department to conduct a criminal inquiry into Neely’s activities and possible contracting violations.

“After some delay, Mr. Neely is rightfully no longer on the taxpayers’ tab,” said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Neely told investigators that he had set out to change the culture of the Pacific Rim region when he became acting administrator in January 2009. He said he sought high-quality services, even if contracting laws had to be fudged.

Things eventually went off track.

An employee awards program, instituted in 2001, grew excessive under Neely’s watch, a separate inspector general’s investigation found. That probe uncovered theft of government property, numerous violations of agency directives and misuse of government purchasing cards to maintain the program.

A congressional inquiry into Neely’s management of GSA detailed several instances of personal travel expense charges. His wife, Deborah Neely, accompanied him on some of those trips.

Neely, who appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month, declined to testify, citing his Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination. It was the first of four hearings.

Although Neely was not present for the other hearings, he still received withering criticism from lawmakers.

“The guy set up a fiefdom,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) said during the second House hearing. “Not since Jack Abramoff has someone walked with such swagger.”

Neely had planned for the 2010 employee conference to be “over the top,” according to the inspector general’s report. The event included a magician and a $75,000 bicycle-building exercise, and questionable contracting practices. For instance, a GSA event planner had used a hotel locator service without allowing for competitive bidding on the contract.

Employees at the Pacific Rim region office described Neely as confident but arrogant and often abrasive in his management approach.

One employee told GSA investigators that Neely “squashed like a bug” a regional director who questioned his spending on conferences and travel, GSA Inspector General Brian Miller told lawmakers during the congressional hearings.

Immediately after the scandal broke, GSA Acting Administrator Daniel Tangherlini canceled 35 scheduled conferences, and the fallout has extended throughout the government.

The Obama administration has placed new restrictions on all federal travel and meetings.

In addition to the four congressional hearings, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also investigated a spate of long-vacant inspector general posts, citing GSA’s inspector general’s office as an example of why the positions need to be filled.

Mica said Thursday that he will introduce legislation that would allow for the immediate termination of senior-level government executives who do not cooperate with congressional investigations.

 
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