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Entries in General Services Administration (7)

Thursday
Jul192012

GSA Blasted for One-Day Quarter-Million Dollar Awards Conference

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The General Services Administration was back in Congress’s crosshairs Thursday after the GSA’s inspector general reported to Congress on another installment of, “egregious waste of taxpayer dollars” at the beleaguered government agency.

Just months after the agency was rocked when a lavish 2010 Las Vegas conference was exposed by the agency’s inspector general, GSA is now facing scrutiny for wasteful spending at another performance awards ceremony for its employees.

This time, the agency is being investigated for spending $268,732 on a one-day conference for its Federal Acquisition Service division on Nov. 17, 2010, in Arlington, Va.

More than $20,000 of taxpayer money was spent on drumsticks for 4,000 attendees, more than $8,500 for an appearance by someone called "Agent X," according to the preliminary findings of the Inspector General. The event, which was held at the Crystal City Gateway Marriott just outside Washington, D.C., also included expenses of more than $35,000 for picture frames, $20,000 in catering charges as well as additional funding for a violinist and guitarist.

“This is another sad day for the taxpayers in the United States,” Rep. John Mica, the Republican chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, said. “This sounds almost unbelievable to have this kind of waste reported when we’re running trillions in dollars in deficit -- makes absolutely everyone’s blood boil.”

The outrage was bipartisan.

“It is deeply troubling to learn that more than a quarter million dollars in hard earned taxpayer money was wasted so that certain GSA employees could congratulate themselves,” Rep. Nick Rahall, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote in a statement.

Last April, the GSA Inspector General revealed that the agency had spent $822,751 of taxpayer funds to conduct the Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas, Nev. Martha Johnson, the former administrator of GSA, resigned abruptly in the wake of the scandal and was replaced by Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini.

The committee was notified Thursday morning of the latest spending spree in a letter from IG Brian Miller, who was informed of the incident by Tangherlini on July 11.

Still, Rep. Jeff Dehnam, the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on oversight, said that his panel will conduct hearings next week to further examine the incident.

“It’s still a blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars and it’s going to stop,” Dehnam, R-Calif., said. “The taxpayers can’t afford it and they’re not going to stand for it any longer.”

GSA noted Thursday that “under the new GSA leadership, this event and type of spending is not tolerated” and the agency continues a “rigorous top-to-bottom review of all agency operations” as it considers further reforms.

“These events indicate an already recognized pattern of misjudgment which spans several years and administrations. It must stop,” GSA communications director Betsaida Alcantara wrote in an email. “The new leadership at the GSA is leaving no stone unturned in investigating any misuse of taxpayer dollars. When we find serious issues we refer them to the Office of Inspector General, as we did in this case.  We look forward to the recommendations and findings of the OIG’s investigation.”

Earlier this week, Tangherlini cut executive bonuses and instituted a hiring freeze across GSA. Additionally, Tangherlini has also cancelled 36 conferences so far, according to GSA, saving millions in taxpayer dollars.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr112012

Latest GSA Docs Reveal More About Martha Johnson's Solyndra Meeting

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- The House Energy and Commerce committee released documents late Wednesday that show former General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson had planned to meet with Solyndra in California at the same time GSA employees attended a lavish Las Vegas conference, but she changed her mind just days before her trip. An investigation into that conference and other wasteful spending at GSA led to Johnson’s resignation earlier this month.

Johnson did not attend the Solyndra meeting scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010, just days before the congressional midterm elections. Instead, travel records show she went to Portland, Ore., for three days to visit a GSA-sponsored construction project that taught women new job skills with stimulus money.

According to documents released by the committee, Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison had informed the Department of Energy on Oct. 25 that the green energy company intended to announce layoffs three days later, on Oct. 28, the same day Johnson considered attending meetings. Solyndra ended up delaying the announcement until after the election at the request of the White House, according to the committee.

In one document released by the committee from Oct. 25, GSA deputy administrator Susan Brita wrote a GSA spokesperson asking for details of Johnson’s upcoming trip to Solyndra.

“I’m coordinating with the Solyndra folks today to tie down the details. I’ll let you know if anything changes, but as of now the event is the morning of Thursday the 28th,” the spokesperson answered on Oct. 25. “I’m shooting for 10:30ish. MJ [Martha Johnson] will take a tour of the plant and speak to plant execs and workers. No formal remarks. I’m inviting a few targeted reporters who seem like good fits for this sort of thing.”

Solyndra is the now-bankrupt green energy company that the Obama administration had provided with a $535 million loan through the stimulus.

Republicans believe the timing is curious and contend the trip was scrapped due to Solyndra’s pending layoffs announcement, amid concerns by Democrats over political fallout from the layoffs.

Reached for comment, a White House spokesman said, “We don’t normally respond to or even get asked about events that never transpire.”

The White House and GSA both maintain that Johnson never met with Solyndra at any point during her tenure at GSA. There are no records that a meeting with Solyndra ever transpired.

Johnson also was set to receive an award in San Francisco the same week, but she had someone else accept the prize on her behalf.

ABC News reported Tuesday that a senior GSA official, Jeff Neely, who is currently on administrative leave, testified in a government investigation that Johnson missed the 2010 Western Regions Conference to attend “a meeting with Salindra [sic].” Other records prove Neely’s testimony incorrect, even if he had caught wind of Johnson’s planned meetings.

Administration officials said she did not meet there and provided records Wednesday morning that showed Johnson traveled to Portland, Ore., instead.

The agency spent about $823,000 on the 2010 convention for 300 employees, including thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA inspector general presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference. Seven other officials have resigned, been fired or suspended in the wake of the scandal.

Multiple congressional hearings are scheduled beginning Monday to investigate the matter when Congress returns to session next week. Johnson and Neely are both invited to testify at two hearings on the House side of the Capitol.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr112012

Former GSA Administrator Was in Va., Ore. During Vegas Conference

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- Online records, hotel receipts and flight itineraries for former U.S. General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson show that she was in Williamsburg, Va., and Portland, Ore., during the lavish Las Vegas conference that eventually led to her departure, not meeting with Solyndra company officials in California, as government testimony from a senior official at GSA claims.

Jeff Neely, a regional administrator now on administrative leave, testified in March 2011 that Johnson missed the 2010 Western Regions Conference to attend “a meeting with Salindra [sic],” according to ABC News’ Tuesday reporting on the transcripts.

But travel records show that Johnson flew coach on United Airlines from Washington National Airport, connecting through Chicago on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010.  Johnson left Portland on Oct. 29, flying non-stop to Washington-Dulles International Airport.  Hotel records also show that she stayed at a Courtyard Marriott. 

Johnson was in Portland to visit a GSA-sponsored construction project that taught women new job skills with stimulus money.  She was in Williamsburg for a leadership conference and panel discussion during the first two days of the Vegas conference.

GSA and Obama administration officials disputed Neely’s testimony on Tuesday, but provided no records showing Johnson’s whereabouts until Wednesday morning.

The agency spent about $823,000 on the 2010 convention for 300 employees, including thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA inspector general presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference.  Seven other officials have resigned, been fired or suspended in the wake of the scandal.

Multiple congressional hearings are scheduled to investigate the matter when Congress returns to session next week.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr102012

Former GSA Administrator Skipped Vegas Conference for Meetings at Solyndra

Tom Williams/Roll CallUPDATE: On Wednesday morning, sources provided ABC News with records and documentation showing Martha Johnson did not travel to California to meet with Solyndra, and was in Virginia and Oregon for other meetings and activities. Read the updated story here.

(WASHINGTON) -- Former General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson missed a lavish Las Vegas conference for government employees because she was already committed to meetings in California at Solyndra, according to testimony in an official government investigation.

Solyndra is the now-bankrupt green energy company that the Obama administration had provided with a $535 million loan through the stimulus.

The development, if true, dovetails together two embarrassing but otherwise unrelated episodes for the Obama administration.

According to a 52-page transcript from the Inspector General investigator’s March 15, 2011 interview with Jeff Neely, a regional administrator currently on administrative leave, Neely explained that GSA incurred some unanticipated expenses for a last-minute video link for four assistant commissioners assigned to participate at the conference in Johnson’s place.

Adam Elkington, a spokesman for GSA, disputes the testimony of Neely, claiming that Johnson did not attend meetings at Solyndra that day. Elkington, however, was unable to explain where Johnson was during the conference.

According to the testimony transcript, in response to a question about Johnson, Neely explained the need for extra audio/visual expenses because Johnson couldn’t attend the conference.

“Martha was actually coming to the West Coast and we had invited her to participate, but the events that she was coming to the West Coast for; one was a meeting with Salindra [sic], who is down to the San Jose area,” Neely answered, although the transcript incorrectly spelled the Fremont, Calif.-based business.

GSA ended up forking over $3,500 for the four assistant administrators to participate in a video-teleconference, according to Neely in the IG interview transcript.

ABC News was able to view a copy of the transcript, but it is not currently available to the public.

“Maybe some of those contract costs were related to that last minute change, because they were supposed to come present in person and then decided to do it via video,” Neely explained. “We said we would try this as an experiment. I, personally, explained to them that I had some concerns about this because we were spending $3,500.00 to save $1,500.00 in travel.”

At the time, the Department of Energy was working to help enable GSA to purchase Solyndra solar panels for rooftops of federal buildings, which some critics believed was an attempt to prop up the doomed company with more federal money.

Earlier Tuesday, GSA acting administrator Dan Tangherlini apologized for GSA’s conduct, and announced the agency had suspended a separate  “Hats Off” incentive program for employees.

“What took place was completely unacceptable,” Tangherlini said in a video statement posted to YouTube. “Those responsible violated rules of common sense, the spirit of public service, and the trust that America’s taxpayers have placed in all of us.”

The agency spent about $823,000 on the 2010 convention for 300 employees, including thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA inspector general presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference. Seven other officials have resigned, been fired or suspended in the wake of the scandal.

Multiple congressional hearings are scheduled to investigate the matter when Congress returns to session next week.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr062012

GSA’s ‘Hats Off’ Program Fuels Further Criticism

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- With the U.S. General Services Administration under a cloud of scrutiny for questionable spending practices, the House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Friday released new details from a report showing that the government agency known commonly as GSA spent nearly $440,000 on “lavish gifts” like iPods and digital cameras for an incentive program for its employees.

High-ranking officials in the Public Buildings Service developed an incentive program store known as the Hats Off Store. The program was initially introduced in 2001, awarding prizes of low value like mugs, mouse pads and backpacks labeled with GSA logos or insignia.

But over time, high-value items such as iPods, digital cameras and GPS devices were added into the program, often in violation of the GSA’s $99 limit on gifts. From FY2007-2010 the program distributed $438,750 worth of lavish gifts to its employees, according to the committee.

“The Hats Off award program degenerated into a taxpayer-funded give-away where employees handed out iPods to their office buddies for almost any reason,” Rep. John Mica, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, said. “Not surprisingly the IG report identified the supervisors who ran the Hats Off store as the biggest winners of taxpayer swag. There was no accountability at GSA.”

The report also finds a lack of physical security for award items in storage; 40 iPods with an estimated value of $8,000 were reported stolen, although a subsequent investigation revealed that approximately 115 iPods valued at more than $20,000 were unaccounted for and may have been stolen.

GSA helps manage the basic functions of federal agencies, including developing policies intended to minimize the cost of doing business with the federal government. ABC News aired a report Thursday evening detailing a GSA convention in Las Vegas that cost taxpayers about $523,000, including a talent contest where an employee spoofed the agency and joked about excessive government spending.

“The Vegas vacation is just the tip of the iceberg,” Mica, R-Fla., said. “The Hats Off boondoggle is one more example of the Administration’s complete disregard for taxpayer money.”

“More and more information is coming out about the total lack of accountability and outrageous spending habits of the General Services Administration. The Obama Administration thinks it can treat hardworking taxpayer dollars like their own private slush fund,” Rep. Jeff Denham, chairman of the subcommittee investigating the matter, stated. “The arrogance of giving away a grab bag of free stuff to its employees instead of effectively managing our federal properties is a disgrace.  There must be serious consequences for this type of blatant waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr052012

GSA Again Under Fire, Now over Video Spoof

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The same government agency already under fire for wasteful spending at a Las Vegas conference was under further scrutiny Thursday for a newly discovered video featuring a U.S. General Services Administration employee joking about excess government spending.

The video features a GSA employee, identified as Hank Terlaje, playing the ukulele to the tune of Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars’ “Billionaire,” and rapping about what life would be like were he to become the GSA administrator, or, in his parlance, “commissioner.” Among his promises, ironically, is that the agency would “never be under OIG investigation.”

“Obama better prepare, when I’m commissioner,” he croons. “I’d have a road show like [Acting Regional GSA Administrator Jeffrey] Neely, every time you see me rolling on 20s yeah, in my GOV. Spend BA 61 all on fun. ATF can’t touch GS-15 guns! Cause I buy everything your field office can’t afford. Every GS-5 would get a top hat award. Donate my vacation, love to the nation, I’ll never be under OIG investigation.”

Terlaje, who is an employee of the Hawaiian office of the GSA, won first prize for the creative project and was named honorary GSA commissioner for the day.

The House committee on Oversight and Government Reform circulated the video, which was uncovered by an investigation by GSA’s inspector general.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was blistering in his attack on the GSA and the Obama administration.

“It takes a lot of work to spend $3,000 a person and at a time when unemployment was nearly 10 percent, Americans were suffering and GSA was enjoying the good times and doing so with high-ranking political employees,” Issa said. “This administration knew about this 11 months ago and they didn’t act until the press got wind of it. This is typically what has been happening in this administration. They are only transparent when they are discovered.”

ABC News spoke to Terlaje on Thursday afternoon, but he wouldn’t comment, referring reporters to GSA spokesman Adam Elkington.

“This video is another example of the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference,” Elkington, deputy press secretary at GSA, said. “Our agency continues to be appalled by this indefensible behavior, and we are taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

GSA helps manage the basic functions of federal agencies, including by developing policies intended to minimize the cost of doing business with the federal government.

The Pacific Rim region of GSA, which conducts oversight on federal property in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada, ran an incentive program for employees called Top Hats, which Terlaje apparently referenced in his lyrics. Top Hats allowed workers to cash in reward points for about $200,000 in taxpayer-funded gift cards, electronics and iPods.

In congratulating the winner at the conference, Deputy Commissioner of the Public Building Service David Foley presents an award and jokes about a “party that was held in the commissioner’s suite,” having to respond to congressional oversight, and the Obama administration’s efforts to control executive pay.

Even before the video came to light, the agency was criticized for spending $835,000 on a Las Vegas convention in 2010 for 300 employees, which included thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

GSA administrator Martha Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA inspector general presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference.

Reacting to the IG’s report earlier this week, Issa said it is “hypocritical that such a large agency with critical management responsibilities across government would hold this luxurious conference at the height of the recession and even spend thousands on custom-made coins touting the stimulus,” particularly after “President Obama lectured the private sector about not wasting funds on Las Vegas conventions.”

Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked whether the White House is confident that no other embarrassing examples of excess government spending will surface in the future.

“When the White House was informed of the inspector general’s findings in this matter, we at the White House quickly acted to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Carney said. “The president was informed before his trip to South Korea, and he was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars.  He called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as president.”

When Congress returns to Washington following the Easter recess, the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management will convene a hearing April 19 to review the matter.

“This type of waste and abuse is outrageous,” Rep. Jeff Denham, the chairman of the subcommittee, stated Thursday. ”As chairman of the subcommittee overseeing GSA and as I’ve stated before, ‘Business as usual is over.’  I expect detailed explanations on how and why these abuses occurred from those who have been fired or placed on leave and the committee is prepared to request subpoenas, if necessary.  The taxpayers have a right to know the truth.”

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr022012

Head of Government Cost Cutting Resigns After Lavish Convention

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama -- “outraged” by an inspector general’s report detailing lavish spending by the government agency in charge of cutting costs -- has fired the head of that agency, Martha Johnson, the now-former administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration. Technically, White House officials, upon his order, sought her resignation, and she submitted it.

The GSA helps to manage the basic functions of federal agencies, including by developing policies intended to minimize the cost of doing business with the federal government.

Despite that charge, GSA spent $835,000 on a Las Vegas convention in 2010 for 300 employees, which included thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.

It was GSA Inspector General Brad Miller who brought the expenses to light. White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew in a statement said, “When the White House was informed of the Inspector General’s findings we acted quickly to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars. The President was informed before his trip to South Korea, and he was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars. He called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as President.”

Johnson in her letter to GSA employees acknowledged that the Agency “made a significant mis-step,” as discovered by the Inspector General, “an internal conference in which taxpayer dollars were squandered led me to launch internal reviews, take disciplinary personnel action, and institute tough new controls to ensure this incident is not repeated.”

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called it “hypocritical that such a large agency with critical management responsibilities across government would hold this luxurious conference at the height of the recession and even spend thousands on custom made coins touting the stimulus,” particularly after “President Obama lectured the private sector about not wasting funds on Las Vegas conventions.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







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