Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said he’s now considering a “top-to-bottom” restructuring of the agency in an effort to regain accountability and integrity after a rogue band of employees went on the now infamous spending spree on lavish and, in some cases odd, entertainment.
“There has to be more checks and balances,” Tangherlini testified at a hearing on the matter Wednesday. “There’s lots of work we have to do to have visibility. We need to consolidate procurement and oversight as well. We need to have clear accountability. We’re going to look at the entire structure top to bottom. How should it be structured?”
A GSA Inspector General’s report, four congressional hearings and public outrage has led to actions against the abuses: a $823,000 training fest in Las Vegas that included a mind reader, a clown, $7,000 worth of sushi and other excesses.
Tangherlini has suspended all travel for GSA meetings, training conferences or other events for the rest of the year and canceled 35 conferences but that’s just the beginning as his office takes a tough look on what went wrong.
He’s taken responsibility for GSA regional budgets and contracting authority, a move that would have halted the spending spree of the Western Regions that handled the Las Vegas event with no cost controls and disregard for GSA rules on getting services at competitive prices, he told one congressional hearing.
Tangherlini also canceled “Hats Off,” an employee rewards program that he said was a “gross misuse of taxpayer funds.”
One of the biggest problems that contributed to the abuses within GSA is that the federal government does not have a good financial oversight system in place, Tangherlini testified on Wednesday. He also said that information was closely held by within the region that had planned the conference and not shared up the ladder of responsibility with people who could stop it.
GSA IG Brian Miller explained GSA’s problems this way: Bank robber “Willie Sutton was asked, ‘Why do you rob banks?’ ” Miller told one congressional panel. “He said that’s where the money is. Part of the reason there is a lot of crime, fraud, waste and abuse at GSA is because a lot of money flows through GSA.”
GSA oversees $66 billion of procurement annually and manages $500 billion in U.S. federal property, including 8,300 owned and leased buildings and a 210,000 vehicle pool. The agency also runs a long list of contracting schedules that helps government agencies get the best competitive prices for the goods and services they need.
Rep. Jo Anne Emerson, R-Mo., chairwoman of the House appropriations panel that oversees GSA, said she intends to cut the agency’s budget next year. She said the scandal isn’t the only reason, but it demonstrates the agency has more money than it needs.
“We are going to be scrubbing the budget even more than we were otherwise going to be doing because of the conference,” she said at Wednesday’s hearing.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. said she wants to see the GSA back before her committee in September to report on more changes.
“The days of being unaccountable at GSA are over,” she said after hearing the wild list of expenses that included a a $75,000 team-building activity to build a bike, six pre planning trips that cost over $100,000, fake awards and fun times for 300 GSA employees from the Western Regions in 2010.
Training conferences and performance awards across government are likely to come under scrutiny by other agencies. Among legislation introduced by Congress as a result of the scandal:
- Agency heads would be required to approve conferences costing more than $200,000
- Agencies would be prohibited from giving bonuses to employees under investigation or whose actions lead to “fraud, waste or abuse of taxpayer dollars.” That’s in direct response to the $9,000 bonus to Jeffrey Neely, the GSA official who planned the Las Vegas event.
Also at this week’s hearings, GSA’s IG Miller asked the Justice Department to investigate possible wrongdoing by Neely and others as well as why GSA planners did not use competitive bidding to get lower prices for the event. Miller also told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing that he is investigating whether there were kickbacks paid to vendors for the conference and whether other regions were trying to do the same thing.
A total of 13 agency leaders and managers have been fired, put on leave or resigned since Inspector General Miller’s report came out, including GSA Administrator Martha Johnson.