GSA revenge: House votes for option of firing officials who waste money

During floor debate, several members noted Jeff Neely, who was a senior official at GSA and was put on paid administrative leave for failing to control spending. A photograph of Neely in a Las Vegas hot tub surfaced during the scandal earlier in the year, making him the poster boy for government excess. He resigned in May.

"That person thumbed his nose in the hot tub at the taxpayers, and the Congress and everyone else," House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said. "Today, this is taxpayers' revenge. This is a little gift, hopefully, we can put under the Christmas tree for the taxpayers."

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"GSA employees, including Jeff Neely, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, failed to follow GSA policy, federal procurement law or basic common sense," added Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), who sponsored the bill, said the legislation is an answer to the question of why Neely was allowed to take leave with pay.

"[T]hey said, well, we don't have any mechanism to prevent that from happening," he said. "So what we said was, let's go back into the regular world, let's go back to common-sense rules, and let's give them a tool to use that makes sense for the American people."

Even Democrats supported the bill, although they tempered their support by saying the actions of some officials at GSA should not lead Congress to pass legislation that attacks all government workers.

"While I fully support the purpose and intent of this legislation to prevent misappropriation and misuse of taxpayer dollars, we need to be careful not to allow the bad actions of a few government employees to take away from the good work that our federal workers do everyday," Clay said. "I have the greatest respect and appreciation for our federal workers, and I think we need to be reminded that these men and women devote their professional lives to serve all Americans."

Under the bill, agency chiefs would have the specific authority to place senior officials on administrative leave with pay for misappropriating funds, misconduct, neglect of duty or malfeasance. Employees whose conduct is "serious or flagrant" can be placed on administrative leave without pay.

After two weeks, and after sending a report about the incident to Congress, an agency chief either would have to remove the employee, suspend him or her without pay, or allow the individual to return to work.

House passage sends the bill to the Senate, which has not indicated whether it will consider the bill.

The House passed two other bills in separate votes. One is S. 3564, which would reauthorize the Public Interest Declassification Board through 2018. The board is tasked with making recommendations on declassifying government information.

"The volume of classified information has skyrocketed in recent years, due to the rapid increase in electronic communications, as well as an institutional bias that prefers over-classification as a risk-avoidance strategy," Rep. Farenthold said in support of the bill. It passed 409-1.

The other is H.R. 6655, which would set up a commission to develop a strategy for reducing fatalities resulting from child abuse and neglect. The bill is the result of two years of bipartisan work, and it passed 330-77.

Before these recorded votes, the House approved S. 2170, the Hatch Act Modernization Act, by voice vote. This bill would make it possible for state and local officials whose job is connected to federal funding to run for partisan elective office, a reform that both parties support.