The General Services Administration’s Public Building Service’s excessive and wasteful spending may signal much deeper problems.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said GSA has not cooperated with him in providing information about PBS’ plans to sell off excess federal buildings for months.
The chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said GSA’s Inspector General report on PBS’s $822,000 conference in October 2010 is “just the tip of the iceberg” of the management problems in the organization.
“We have requested from GSA since last December administrative cost details which the agency has continually stonewalled us,” Mica said during a press briefing Tuesday on Capitol Hill. “As you may recall … I had to pass a resolution on another project that would save a half a billion dollars in taxpayer money for which our requests were denied for information or for a plan to deal with some consolidation of some of the federal buildings in our nation’s capital.” He added GSA has lost control and is stuck in neutral when it comes to getting rid of vacant buildings. Mica said the IG report would put the spotlight on GSA and their failures across the board.
While Mica’s accusations and criticisms are as much about politics as about real problems, some in the federal community see a pattern of problems at GSA.
Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), said while other agencies have had management troubles too, none have been as consistent as GSA.
“I think even with this latest IG report that is talking about the conference in Las Vegas, you do have a problem with excessive spending, but it also got into procurement failures,” he said. “It’s wide-ranging the kind of problems existing with GSA. And at that point, they are tied together. It really does start at the top with management.”
Amey said this second administrator failure in four years begs the question to how GSA is operating. Is the agency acting in the best interest of taxpayers or in the best interest of its own bottom line and contractors?
Martha Johnson resigned as administrator after the scathing IG report came out showing excessive and wasteful spending. The last Senate confirmed GSA administrator, Lurita Doan, also resigned after contracting irregularities and the IG found she violated the Hatch Act for holding political meetings on federal property during the workday.
Amey said the most recent scandal claiming the administrator also shows the problems are systemic.
“This is people who were involved in the planning of this conference, in the set up of this conference and even all the attendees of this conference probably should have said, ‘This is above my per diem. This is way above any limits I should get,'” he said. “They should have asked questions about the lavish spending, the parties and a lot of the gifts that were being handed out. Most of the people inside the government know what the rules and regulations are for conflict of interest and ethics and at that point, I’m surprise more red flags weren’t raised at the time.”
The IG said some PBS employees raised concerns about the costs, but management ignored them.
In response to Mica’s accusations and criticisms, GSA pointed to a letter Dan Tangherlini, the new acting GSA administrator, sent to agency staff today.
Tangherlini laid out steps to ensure any management issues are addressed, including”
Reviewing all planned and proposed conferences and meetings that involve travel or substantial expenditures of public funds.
Canceling a number of conferences that only or primarily involve internal staff.
Launching an evaluation of GSA conference and travel policies and business justification.
Enhancing its focus on oversight by improving risk management.
Mica and other lawmakers are promising a thorough investigation of what happened and the management failures.
“On our return the week of the 16th of April, I’ve conferred with Chairman [Jeff] Denham, of the subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, and we will be conducting a full hearing on this and other matters trying to hold GSA accountable for taxpayer waste and inefficiency that is mind-boggling in its scope,” Mica said.
Other committees are looking into this as well. Reps. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman and ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have asked GSA for more briefings.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also is taking a closer look at what happened and the management failures.
Amey said the fact that Johnson resigned so quickly was unusual.
“That is unheard of in Washington, D.C. Even with the previous administrator, she fought for her job for a long time before deciding to resign,” he said. “The biggest shock to me was the amount of failures that took place, all in this one example of this conference. This causes a taxpayer to scratch their heads and really question integrity of the federal government.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-8 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.