The Comptroller General rejected an appeal by Interior Secretary James G. Watt yesterday and held that Watt and his wife, Leilani, are personally responsible for at least $4,500 in entertainment expenses incurred during two Christmas parties they hosted at the Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington National Cemetery.
The action by Comptroller General Charles A. Bowsher upheld a General Accounting Office report issued in February that found Watt had improperly diverted federal funds to pay for a large Dec. 17 cocktail party attended by administration officials and a breakfast attended by cabinet wives.
"The facts in this case. . . indicate that the two events in question were essentially personal and social in nature," said Bowser in a seven-page response to Watt's appeal of the GAO report.
Bowser also held the Park Service officers who had allowed money from a private donations fund to be used for the parties were "personally responsible for reimbursing the fund" but added that the Park Service "should collect these amounts from . . . the Secretary and his wife."
The comptroller general's report was hand-delivered yesterday afternoon to the House Interior Oversight subcommitttee headed by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who released it to the press. The subcommittee earlier this year had investigated the funding of the two parties.
At those hearings, Watt's use of the mansion, a Washington landmark also called Arlington House, and his use of the private donations fund was criticized as improper by several witnesses. Watt declined to attend that hearing, which he described as "media sideshow," but his spokesmen described the Christmas parties as "official receptions" and defended use of the donations fund.
Markey said yesterday that "the bill is due from Mr. Watt" and that "cash, check or Master Charge" would be acceptable to "pay back the American people."
Interior spokesman Douglas Baldwin declined to comment last night except to say that the comptroller general had denied "just 20 minutes ago" that there was any report. "We haven't seen anything here."
Bowsher said later that Baldwin was incorrect and that Interior had been notified of the report.