Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Bribes, kickbacks in GSA scandal?
CBS News reported today in WASHINGTON - A hearing on an extravagant government conference in Las Vegas was to enter its second day on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
On Monday, a House committee heard from officials accused of wasting taxpayer money on fancy meals and over-the-top entertainment.
GSA inspector general Brian Miller says he believes the behavior he uncovered goes beyond impropriety and could possibly be criminal. He wants the Justice Department to investigate possible bribes and kickbacks.
It turns out it wasn't an isolated case of overspending by the General Services Administration, or GSA, which manages federal buildings.
Prior conferences, stretching all the way back to 2006, were nearly as expensive -- all this at the agency that's supposed to set the standard for the rest of government.
New grilling set for current, former GSA officials
In Las Vegas in 2010, Jeff Neely bragged about a conference he called "over-the-top," which cost taxpayers $822,000. "What's done in Vegas needs to be shared with everybody!" Neely said at the time.
But on the Hill Monday, the San Francisco-based GSA official was far less forthcoming, repeatedly saying words to the effect of "Mr. Chairman, on the advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer" to different questions.
Emails released at the hearing show Neely planned lavish after-hours parties and invited friends to stay at the conference hotel, all at taxpayer expense. Pictures on the Internet show him enjoying one of at least half-a-dozen so-called "scouting trips" to Vegas in the months before the conference.
"Why is he still an employee?" wondered Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, Utah). " ... What does it take to actually be fired from the GSA?"
"It's so easy," remarked Rep. Mike Kelly (R, Pa.), "to spend someone's money, especially when you're not held accountable. I think it's absolutely ridiculous that the American people have to sit back and watch this."
The overspending was apparently so rampant that GSA employees made videos mocking it.
In one, the GSA's David Foley jokingly says, "The hotel would like to talk to you about paying for the party that was held in the commissioner's suite last night."
Foley apologized at the hearing Tuesday, saying, "There were things that seemed over-the-top, but I believed they were not being paid for with government funds."
GSA Administrator Martha Johnson stepped down two weeks ago when the excesses came to light. She says she was trying to impose stricter spending standards at the agency -- but she also gave Neely a $9,000 bonus last year -- even as he was being investigated.
"As the head of the agency, I am responsible," Johnson said at the hearing. "I deeply regret this. I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my appointment."
The president has named a new GSA administrator, and he testified Tuesday that he's already cancelled 35 upcoming conferences -- at a savings of nearly $1 million.