The Washington Post

GSA scandal probe moves to Senate


Congressional probes into the General Services Administration scandal, involving excessive spending at a 2010 conference outside Las Vegas, moved to the Senate Wednesday for hearings with two committees.

“The latest misconduct at the General Services Administration makes me cringe for the taxpayers who expect every agency in their government to fulfill their mission with integrity,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, as she opened the morning session. “And it makes me cringe that the good people at GSA who work hard everyday have been humiliated by a few bad actors.”

GSA Inspector General Brian Miller (left) and Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini testify during a hearing before Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/GETTY IMAGES)

Of the four hearings this week -- the House had hearings on Monday and Tuesday -- the Wednesday afternoon hearing by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government has the potential to be the most consequential.

The reason: money.

Appropriations committees control agency funding. If an appropriations committee tells an agency not to spend money in a certain way, that’s a much more powerful tool than the oversight that other legislative panels are authorized to provide.

That oversight has flourished this week, however, as House and Senate members rushed to examine charges in the GSA inspector general’s April 2 report on the agency's Western Regions Conference.

The document, which said that “GSA spending on conference planning was excessive, wasteful, and in some cases impermissible,” was so damning that it undercut White House confidence in former administrator Martha Johnson. She was gone from her position before the report was released. Before she left, Johnson fired two other top political appointees at the agency. Ten other employees have been placed on administrative leave pending further disciplinary action.

The Wednesday morning hearing was less dramatic than the House events, perhaps reflecting that the Senate and the White House are controlled by people of the same political party — Democrats. Republicans in the House used the scandal to score political points.

That could be inferred from the titles of the hearings, which had a more accusatory tone in the House, such as “Addressing GSA’s Culture of Wasteful Spending” and “GSA’s Squandering of Taxpayer Dollars: A Pattern of Mismanagement, Excess and Waste.”

“We’re not looking for photo ops of people taking the Fifth,” Boxer said. She was referring to a House hearing on Monday where senior GSA official Jeffrey Neeley, who could possibly face criminal charges, refused to testify.

Yet members from both parties have pressed former and current GSA officials with questions that indicate that no matter what the political affiliation, Congress is concerned about a squandering of taxpayer dollars.

“There must be justice and restitution for this,” Boxer said, “and those who are responsible for the outrageous conduct and who violated the public trust must be held accountable.”

Added Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the committee: “I believe that this goes beyond a onetime event. I am concerned that this type of waste has become an imbedded part of the culture of GSA.”

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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