Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Second Day of Congressional GSA Hearings Divulges Further Outrages

As if an extravagant government workers’ conference in Las Vegas at a cost to taxpayers of $685.00 per person per day weren’t enough of a scandal, Tuesday’s second day of Congressional hearings into the lavish spending habits of GSA’s Region 9, before a subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, revealed a timeline including exotic taxpayer funded travel by disgraced GSA executive Jeffrey Neely and his wife around the South Pacific after agency leaders in Washington, D.C. were made aware of the facts respecting the scandalous Las Vegas meeting. According to the subcommittee’s timeline, Neely’s 2010 Las Vegas conference excesses were revealed to GSA’s Deputy Director Susan Brita, as well as resigned administrator Martha Johnson and commissioner Ruth Cox, by Inspector General Brian Miller at a briefing in May, 2011. Following that briefing, agency leaders allowed Neely and his wife to spend an additional 44 days flitting around the South Pacific on taxpayer funded junkets to such lavish locales as Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, and the Northern Marianas, as well as Napa Valley wine country.

One GSA funded February, 2012, Neely family South Pacific tour lasting 17 days was described in Neely’s e-mail messages as a birthday party. “Rough schedule per our conversation. Guess this’ll be your birthday present,” Neely wrote to his wife.” Her response: “We gonna party like iz yo birthday.” This sort of wasteful spending, after being alerted to Neely’s earlier misdeeds prompted California Congressman and subcommittee chairman Jeff Denham to angrily remark to the assembled GSA witnesses, “I am prepared to systematically pull apart GSA to the point I’ll question whether GSA is needed at all.”

Referring to Neely’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment at another Congressional hearing a day earlier, and his conspicuous absence from this hearing, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica alluded to pictures of Neely lounging at the Las Vegas resort during the discredited 2010 conference. “The only way we’ll be able to see him is on a video in a hot tub.”

Responding to questions from subcommittee members, Inspector General Miller described the detailed nature of the improprieties his investigation has uncovered. “Every time we turned over a stone we found 50 more with all kinds of things crawling out.” Miller noted that among his revelations was the theft of 115 iPod music players from Neely’s GSA awards “store.” Through a subpoena to Apple, computer locating technology traced one of the stolen iPods to Neely’s daughter. “There were so few controls and so little restriction preventing people from even going into the GSA store and taking things that we could not tell for sure who stole what from that store,” Miller told the subcommittee.

GSA Chief of Staff Mike Robertson testified that he told Deputy Counsel Kimberley D. Harris, in the White House Counsel’s office, about the profligacy in Neely’s GSA region within a few days of the May, 2011 preliminary revelations by Inspector General Miller.

Seeking to explain the ten month delay in taking any disciplinary action against Neely to stop his extravagant family travel at government expense, resigned GSA Administrator Martha Johnson she “had to follow due process concerning personnel matters.” Someone needs to explain to Washington bureaucrats that “innocent until proven guilty” does not translate to “continued unfettered discretion with taxpayer dollars until proven mendacious.”

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