By Justin Sink - 04/09/12 03:28 PM EDT
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released a second video from the General Services Administration's (GSA) controversial and ritzy 2010 Las Vegas conference on Monday in which employees of the federal agency joke that their environmentally friendly initiatives were intended to earn President Obama good press.
The clip is the latest in a string of embarrassing moments for the agency, under fire for the event that cost more than $800,000 and led to the resignation of a number of top GSA officials.
“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,” he 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,” Issa added.
The video's release drew new questions about the use of taxpayer dollars at the agency, and feeds into a theme that Republicans have been hammering since loans to failed green-energy company Solyndra were revealed: that the White House favors environmentally friendly policies for political gain rather than policy reasons.
In the video, office workers are shown singing about green initiatives in various scenes staged around the GSA office.
"POTUS wants a press event, a project he can show … are you ready for a miracle? GSA is going green," employees sing while seated around a conference table, waving a framed picture of the president. Some are shown wearing costumes or intentionally ridiculous accessories, like a rainbow sombrero.
After the movie, footage from the conference is shown, where convention organizer Jeffrey Neely jokes, "That was amazing, was there anybody in Region 7 who wasn’t in that thing?"
A GSA employee is then shown saying that almost everyone who worked the Friday the video was filmed made an appearance, drawing laughter from the crowd.
On Friday, a similar video for the talent competition showed employees rapping to the tune of Travie McCoy's pop hit "Billionaire."
In the video, a GSA employee mocks other federal agencies for not being able to afford flatscreen televisions and new cars and brags about avoiding investigation into the spending. At another point, Deputy Commissioner of the Public Building Service David Foley jokes about a party in a hotel suite.
The GSA did not immediately respond to request for comment about the latest video, although Democrats were working Monday to argue that the growing troubles at the GSA were emblematic of long-term problems with the agency, rather than failed oversight by the Obama Administration.
A Democratic staffer pointed out that spending on the conference had dramatically risen from $93,000 in President Bush's first term to $655,000 in 2008, while the controversial $840,000 amount in 2010 under President Obama only represented a 28 percent increase.
Issa's office responded by noting that there were not similar reports of excess, which included costs for hiring clowns, mind-readers, and producing commemorative coins, during the Bush years.
“The Oversight Committee certainly views wasteful spending as a problem that transcends administrations and, by working to expose it, can help direct Congress toward necessary cuts to spending on the bureaucracy," Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said.
But while Democrats admit the spending was excessive — and point to the forced resignations of top GSA officials as evidence of the president's displeasure — they say Issa is being hypocritical in criticizing the videos when he regularly uses House Oversight Committee funds to produce attack ads against the president.
"Issa is hardly one to make a stink out of wasting taxpayer dollars on videos since he’s already come under fire for doing the same," said the Democratic staffer.
Hill defended those videos as "created by the committee to explain and convey the important efforts and policy issues being taken on by the Oversight Committee."
Still, the widening scope of excessive GSA spending could become a serious liability for the president headed into November's election.
Earlier Monday, records obtained by The Washington Post showed multiple instances of theft and misuse of government purchasing cards in the maintenance of the agency's "Hats Off" employee recognition program. Employees in some regions averaged rewards of more than $250 per year, far exceeding the agency's limit of $99 per gift. Among the rewards: iPod nanos and portable DVD players.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said last week the president "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," Carney added.
This story was updated at 2:33 p.m.