Stung by continuing reports of waste and mismanagement at the General Services Administration, GSA Administrator Rowland G. Freeman III has established a system for reporting "sensitive" problems to him before they appear in the press.
"You all know the kinds of things that are publicized," Freeman wrote in a memorandum to top GSA officials. He cited "unutilized or underutilized space, inventory shortgages, allegations of mismanagment and the like."
Freeman asked GSA managers to submit written reports every two weeks on their three most "sensitive" problems.
"Reports will be for my review and possible action and distribution; however, distribution will be limited due to the sensitive nature of the data," Freeman said.
"Problems of a highly sensitive nature will not be recorded in this system; instead, they will be telephoned to me directly. When this method of reporting is used, the telephone call will be noted on a dummy record and sent along with the next biweekly submission," he said.
Freeman began the memo by pointing out that top GSA officials had first learned from the press that GSA auditors had found that the agency spent $500,000 to lease empty office space in Queens, N.Y.
"The fact that this situation was aired without any prior awareness on the part of management is an embarrassment to the agency," he said.
After those press reports appeared Jan. 15, GSA Inspector General Kurt Muellenberg ordered GSA auditors and investigators to sign affidavits saying they had not leaked the draft audit report.
At that time, Freeman could not say what action he would take to stop GSA from paying $24,000-a-month rent for the offices because he had not yet seen the audit report.
Asked yesterday if he had taken any action, Freeman, who has previously sought to minimize the corruption scandal at GSA, said, "The appropriate action will be taken. I'm working on it."
Freeman said he established the reporting system because, "I don't like to be surprised. The thrust of the memo is to keep me informed."
Lawrence S. Cohan, the GSA official coordinating the program, said Freeman has already received 75 reports. However, Cohen said, some officials reported they had no problems or reported their accomplishments.
He said Freeman's reference to using a "dummy" record to cover "highly sensitive" problems did not mean data would be falsified. Instead, the record would say a problem is sensitive without disclosing details.
Recently GSA auditors, who have uncovered millions of dollars of waste and fraud at the federal housekeeping agency, were told they may now be evaluated by their superiors on the basis of how well they maintain a "non-adversarial" relationship with the GSA officials they audit.
Michael C. Eberhardt, deputy inspector general for the agency, proposed the new job performance standard in a memo to Muellenberg.
Auditors have told Howard R. Davia, chief of GSA audits, that the proposed job standard would lead to audit reports lacking any criticism of GSA mamagement, according to sources.