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Deeper investigation of GSA spending needed, lawmaker says

From Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh, CNN
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Fri April 6, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lawmakers will get to bottom of overspending at agencies, Rep. Jeff Denham says
  • A video has emerged showing a GSA employee joking about excess spending
  • It follows a report this week documenting GSA overspending
  • The report shows the GSA spent $822,000 on a convention

Washington (CNN) -- Deeper inquiries will be held into massive overspending at the General Services Administration, a congressman vowed Friday, after a video emerged showing an agency employee joking about the excess spending.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-California, chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, said it was vital to get to the bottom of the lavish spending and make sure it didn't happen again.

His comments come after a video was released Thursday showing an agency employee joking about the excess spending and saying he would never be investigated for it.

The video also mentions an awards program for employees that gave out $200,000 worth of taxpayer-funded iPods, other electronics and gift cards to entry-level government employees.

"I buy everything your field office can't afford," the employee raps in the video. "I'll never be under OIG investigation."

It was released in same week that a report by the OIG, the Office of the Inspector General, documented massive overspending at the GSA.

The OIG originally looked into the GSA's spending on a 2010 training conference held in Las Vegas. It found the federal agency spent $822,000 on the event, including $75,000 on team-building exercises, $6,000 on commemorative coins and $6,000 on canteens, keychains and T-shirts.

GSA chief resigns in spending flap
GSA boss resigns over lavish seminar

The revelations prompted GSA Administrator Martha Johnson to resign this week.

Denham told CNN he was "outraged" by what he saw in the video, at a time when unemployment rates are high.

"People are very, very frustrated to see this kind of waste -- and not just the waste, but they are actually bragging about the waste and saying there's never going to be an investigation on this," he said.

"We've done an investigation, and it goes much deeper than what we've been seeing."

Denham said more details were emerging of bonuses and awards given to staff at the agency after the 2010 conference.

"These people should've been fired two years ago," he said. "The administration has known about this, it went all the way up to the top.

"We're going to hold a hearing on this and find out not only every detail that was in the investigation, we actually want to subpoena those involved in this lavish spending and see how far this culture goes within other agencies."

Denham and Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, plan to hold a hearing on the matter on April 19.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's office, which is investigating the excess spending, received the video from the inspector general and released it to the public Thursday.

The video was the winning entry in an employee video contest at the 2010 conference. In handing out the award for the video, the deputy commissioner of the Public Building Service appears to mock GSA oversight.

The revelations about the GSA's overspending are prompting outrage among lawmakers who are furious about taxpayer money being wasted. The inspector general's staff briefed congressional investigators Wednesday, and a source familiar with the briefing told CNN they were "pretty astonished at the blatant misuse of funds."

"Over the course of the past few days, some of the outrageous spending habits of the GSA have surfaced, and it is unbelievable," Mica said in a statement Thursday. "First, it was reported that the agency spent $800,000 on a lavish training conference in Las Vegas, and yesterday we learned of an equally over-the-top employee award program that handed out $200,000 worth of taxpayer-funded iPods, electronics and gift cards for questionable reasons at best."

More damaging videos may soon emerge. A congressional source familiar with the investigation of the GSA told CNN on Thursday that the agency had an internal website with video clips and pictures from the Las Vegas conference.

The site isn't online anymore, but Issa's committee is demanding more information about it.

A GSA spokesman issued a statement saying, "This video is another example of the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference. 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."

Mica's committee was already looking into the GSA's budget when this week's report came out. Earlier this year, committee members noticed that, at a time when other federal agencies' administrative budgets were being cut and going down, the GSA's was dramatically increasing.

The committee requested more details from the GSA about its budget and held hearings on the issue. The GSA witness at the hearings, Robert Peck, promised details, but committee members did not receive them.

A congressional panel said Tuesday that Peck was fired.

Before she stepped down, GSA Administrator Johnson called the details in the report "egregious" and "absolutely unacceptable." She also announced measures including disciplinary action against several senior management officials.

Among other items cited in the inspector general's report was a $12,000 finder's fee paid to an outside company to book the resort complex for the convention, even though the GSA has planners on staff for that purpose.

The report said the GSA portrayed certain events as awards ceremonies simply to justify the catering bill.

It was a GSA deputy administrator who initially asked for the investigation, saying there was questionable spending for the 2010 event.

The GSA employs nearly 13,000 people across the country and is the federal agency that buys and manages goods and services for the government, ranging from envelopes to real estate and office buildings.

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