GSA watchdog says employees are reporting abuse

Associated Press
GSA Inspector General Brian Miller, left, and GSA Deputy Administrator Susan Brita, confer on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, while testifying before the House Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management subcommittee hearing of an excessive conference at a Las Vegas resort by General Services Administration officials in 2010. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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GSA Inspector General Brian Miller, left, and GSA Deputy Administrator Susan Brita, confer on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 17, 2012, while testifying before the House Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management subcommittee hearing of an excessive conference at a Las Vegas resort by General Services Administration officials in 2010. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The General Services Administration's internal watchdog said Wednesday that employees are heeding his call to report wrongdoing and messages on his hotline have triggered new investigations beyond an $823,000 Las Vegas conference and junkets to resorts.

"I don't know what we're going to find but it has not been pretty," Inspector General Brian Miller told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Miller previously revealed that GSA officials in Western states went on taxpayer-financed junkets to Hawaii, South Pacific islands, California's Napa Valley and Palm Springs; stayed in resort hotel suites, and threw lavish parties. His April 2 report detailed how four Western regions partied at their Las Vegas conference in 2010, which featured a clown, a mind-reader, a team-building exercise to build bicycles and a rap video making fun of the spending.

Miller previously said that employees would not blow the whistle on the misconduct because they believed they would be "squashed like a bug" for doing so.

"The result of the release of the report is that people are coming forward now," he said. "They are calling the (inspector general's) hotline.

The Democratic-led Environment committee struck a somewhat different tone than two Republican-run House hearings this week that featured those who allowed or participated in the misconduct.

While the outrage over GSA spending has been bipartisan, the Senate panel only summoned Miller and Acting GSA Administrator Daniel Tangherlini, the two officials who are playing key roles in changing the free-spending culture at the GSA.

"We got the two good guys here," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., his party's ranking Republican on the committee.

In a dig at the House hearings, Chairman Barbara Boxer said, "We're not looking for photo ops of people taking the Fifth." This was a reference to the San Francisco-based regional executive, Jeffrey Neely, who hosted the Las Vegas conference and went on a number of trips after the inspector general warned top officials about his excessive travel.

Neely asserted his right to remain silent at one House hearing and failed to appear at a second. Miller has referred his case to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation and said he made other criminal referrals.

Boxer, D-Calif., said the committee's goal is "to make sure we don't have a repeat of this nightmare." She said Miller and Tangherlini needed to keep "shaking this tree and letting these bad apples fall. This (Western) region went wild on you. They went rogue."

Tangherlini said he's moving to remove some of the autonomy by the 11 GSA regions that permitted the Western regions to spend freely without getting caught. The inspector general only learned of the misconduct after a GSA official in Washington was told about it and asked him to investigate.

Tangherlini added the agency's chief financial officer will now have full access to spending in all the regions and he would end the blurred lines that made it unclear who regional officials reported to.

Miller said the ultimate deterrent to misconduct is criminal prosecution. He said, "We are doing all we can to identify those committing fraud and crimes and referring them to the Department of Justice for prosecution."

In a separate Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Miller said he was investigating whether there were kickbacks paid to vendors for the Las Vegas conference and those by other regions. He said the regions tried to outdo each other in arranging conferences, and added that Neely wanted the Western Regions Conference in 2010 to be "over the top" in extravagance.

Miller said GSA officials would negotiate upgrades for themselves with the resorts where the conferences were held. For instance, at the Las Vegas conference, the resort upgraded some officials to $1,100 two-story loft suites for the federal allocation of $93 per night. The hotel did so, Miller said, in return for the extensive catering that GSA ordered at the facility.

"That is under investigation," Miller said. "As we talked about before, we have a criminal referral" asking the Justice Department to bring an indictment.

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