House Republicans threaten to shut down GSA after spending scandal

Top House Republicans threatened to shut down the General Services Administration in the wake of a scandal focusing on extravagant government spending.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) was the first to raise the threat on Tuesday as he grilled current and former GSA officials before his House subcommittee on how the agency could spend $822,000 on a Las Vegas conference for 300 people.

“If we continue to see that you are not giving us the information on a bipartisan level to show us how these expenditures are happening, I am prepared to systematically pull apart GSA to the point where we will make a question to the American public on whether GSA is needed at all,” said Denham.

“The wasteful spending is going to stop and the transparency is going to begin.”

Denham and other lawmakers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee peppered the GSA’s Inspector General Brian Miller and a half-dozen other GSA officials, some of whom had stepped down or been fired as a result of the Las Vegas scandal, about the culture that exists within the agency and whether it is out of control.

Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Denham seemed to reject the notion that they could have done more to conduct adequate oversight of the agency as they blasted officials — former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and former GSA Public Buildings Service (PBS) Commissioner Robert Peck — for not giving the panel accurate budget data that it has requested for more than a year.

“We were stonewalled, we were delayed, we were not given information, but the American people need to know that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mica, who went on to suggest possibly replacing the GSA with another, more tightly controlled, overseer of government property.

“And I’ll hear much more about what’s going on and what needs to be done to reform this agency, or to replace it,” he said. “Mr. Denham and I had a discussion last night — maybe it’s time to look at a total replacement. How many of you out there, if you had property, would turn it over to the federal government to manage for you? Not very many of you.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the second of four hearings scheduled by Congress this week to look into the GSA scandal that has wrapped Capitol Hill and the White House in a race to see who can express the most disdain for wasteful spending as both parties use the egregious instance as an example of the others’ unguarded spending habits.

The GSA began spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lavish biannual conferences under President George W. Bush’s administration.

Though several political punches were thrown by Republicans on Tuesday, as they pointed the finger at President Obama for not putting a stop to the GSA’s uncontrolled spending sooner, the main theme of the hearing focused on how to fix the broken culture within the agency.

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) said he plans to offer an amendment that would prevent the GSA from ever taking a similar type of conference in the future.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, which heard testimony from GSA officials on Monday, questioned whether Peck failed to do his job or whether Congress should look into giving the GSA's PBS commissioner more authority so the official could catch similarly lavish spending in the future before it was too late.

Peck was the immediate supervisor of Jeff Neely, who was the regional commissioner responsible for the Las Vegas conference that saw taxpayer money spent on clowns, mind readers and commemorative coins.

Neely invoked his Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution at Monday’s hearing.

Peck said the most imperative change that must be made at the GSA is to centralize the command structure, so that lower-level staff are held responsible and accountable for their actions, instead of falling between the cracks of the agency’s current matrix organizational structure.