Congress poised to hit GSA on spending

Dan Tangherlini, meet Capitol Hill.

Congress returns to Washington next week with its mind on taxes but its sights on another target: the General Services Administration (GSA).

ADVERTISEMENT
In four separate hearings, lawmakers in both parties and both chambers will have the chance to sound off on a string of scandals that have plagued the relatively obscure agency, particularly its 2010 conference in Las Vegas, which cost taxpayers upwards of $822,000.

Appearing before all four panels will be Brian Miller – the GSA Inspector General who sparked the uproar with his report on the Vegas junket – and Tangherlini, a former deputy mayor of D.C. tapped by the White House to head the embattled agency in the wake of the scandal.

House Republicans – notably Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee — are approaching the week with particular relish, as the public forums offer them the chance to hammer the Obama administration just as the 2012 presidential race enters a crucial phase.

Indeed, in an embarrassing move for the White House, both GOP panels have called for testimony from former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and other former officials at the center of scandal— testimony Senate Democrats did not request.

The House Oversight Committee will get first shot at Tangherlini and GSA, as it stages its hearing on Monday. The Transportation Committee's subpanel on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management – chaired by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) – follows a day later.

Both panels have invited Miller, Tangherlini and Johnson, as well as Bob Peck, former head of GSA's Public Buildings Service (PBS) who was fired last week, among others.

The high-profile scandal has led to jockeying by Issa and Mica for a piece of the limelight surrounding the scandal. Indeed, Mica had initially scheduled his hearing for Thursday of next week, but switched to Tuesday after Issa announced his Monday slot. Staff for the two offices say they are in communication and the shift was for scheduling reasons.

Senate Democrats have scheduled their examinations later in the week. In back-to-back hearings on Wednesday, the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and the Senate Appropriations Committee's Financial Services Subpanel, headed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), will both hear testimony from Miller and Tangherlini.

They'll have plenty to talk about. 

The GSA Inspector General's report, released earlier in the month, revealed lavish spending at the 2010 conference, including $146,527 on catered food, $6,325 on commemorative coins and $75,000 for a team-building exercise to construct bicycles.

The IG concluded that many of those costs were "excessive and wasteful" and "incompatible with its [GSA's] obligation to be a responsible steward of the public’s money."

The report led Johnson to fire two top deputies, including Peck, before she herself resigned.

Since then, news of additional scandals has dripped out of the agency, including reports that five GSA employees spent a week in Hawaii in 2011 – snorkeling and dining on the taxpayers' dime – for a ground-breaking ceremony said to last an hour.

Mica on Friday sent a clear signal that Republicans won't limit their questions to the Vegas junket. He charged GSA officials with fostering a "culture of waste and corruption" and accused them of "stonewalling" the panel's requests for information on "significant but unexplained increases in [GSA's] administrative costs.”

“This conference scandal is just the tip of the iceberg," the Florida Republican said in a statement. “We’ll get to the bottom of the large scale culture of mismanagement, waste, and abuse at GSA.”

It's hardly the first scandal to rock the GSA in recent years. In 2007, then-GSA Administrator Lurita Doan churned headlines when she allegedly suggested she was willing to use GSA resources to help elect Republican candidates. Democrats at the time said she violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of federal resources for electioneering.

More in Cybersecurity

Intel panel poised to release new cyber bill

Read more »