Thursday, April 19, 2012

Senate Beats House To The Punch With GSA Corrective Legislation

While Illinois’ Senator Dick Durbin was gaveling open the fourth Congressional hearing in three days looking into GSA’s scandalous excesses and abusive spending of taxpayer funds, his Missouri colleague Senator Claire McCaskill introduced the first legislative measure aimed at correcting such misbehavior. In his opening remarks as Chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Durkin sought to shift emphasis of the fourth hearing this week into GSA’s scandals away from the most glaring abuses at the 2010 Las Vegas conference, and to focus on more general questions about efficiency and effectiveness within the agency.

GSA oversight has been on the agenda of Durkin’s subcommittee for months, but he admitted that “The IG’s release of disturbing findings disclosing serious management deficiencies relating to an internal conference have added a new dimension to our discussion. … What is most regrettable is that incidents such as this tarnish the public perception of the workings of the entire Federal government, the services delivered by its dedicated workforce, and the stewardship of precious Federal funds. … There are other issues that deserve our attention as well, and those include GSA’s ability to fulfill its program obligations and the future space needs of federal agencies during a time of debt reduction.”

Meanwhile, Senator McCaskill, chairman of the Senate Committee on Contracting Oversight, was busy introducing the Accountability In Government Act, a measure designed to eliminate the abuses GSA indulged from all federal government agencies. McCaskill’s bill includes provisions requiring an agency head or upper management designee to approve all conferences costing over $200,000.00; annual reporting of every agency to Congress of the details of conference expenditures; and prohibition of paying any bonuses to agency employees under IG investigation, who have been found in violation of contracting rules, or found to have taken action leading to fraud, abuse or waste of taxpayer funds. 

Other Senators participating in Wednesday’s two Senate hearings on GSA abuses also sought to broaden the focus of the Congressional inquiry. New Mexico Senator Tom Udall said, “We need to root out the waste and abuse at GSA and get back to the work the taxpayers what us to do, like economic development and border security.” Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe remarked, “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.”

Earlier Wednesday, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer called to order her hearing into the GSA excesses with these remarks: “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. And it makes me cringe that the good people at GSA who work hard every day have been humiliated by a few bad actors. … There must be justice and restitution for this, and those who are responsible for the outrageous conduct and who violated the public trust must be held accountable.”

Deborah Neely, wife of the GSA bureaucrat whose over the top conference and travel expenses included taking her along on several jaunts around the South Pacific, told journalists she is hiring her own lawyer, and will not comment until she has met with her counsel. Up to now, a total of 13 GSA leaders and managers have resigned, been fired or placed on administrative leave in the wake of the scandal.

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