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Dispute erupts over GSA spending scandal price tag

By Dana Bash and Alan Silverleib, CNN
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Fri April 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Republicans say GSA conference cost dropped nearly 20% from 2004 to 2006
  • The White House says GSA conference cost in that time jumped about 250%
  • Democrats are trying to deflect blame for details of a lavish 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas
  • Former GSA chief Martha Johnson recently resigned because of the scandal

Washington (CNN) -- House Republicans released new documentation Thursday designed to undercut administration claims that the cost of past General Services Administration conferences increased at a far greater rate under President George W. Bush than under President Barack Obama.

A memo drafted by a GOP-controlled House committee -- citing figures that investigators say come from the GSA itself -- says that the cost of the GSA's biannual Western Region Conference actually declined by nearly 20% from 2004 to 2006. Figures released by the White House last week showed the cost of the conference climbing by nearly 250% over the same time period.

An administration source said the White House is examining the discrepancy. The source noted, however, that even under the GOP's tally, GSA conference costs rose dramatically from 2006 to 2008 -- the last two years of Bush's tenure.

The dispute over conference costs for a normally obscure federal agency has become politically toxic after reports and video clips of the lavish 2010 conference in Las Vegas were released. The revelation has prompted taxpayer indignation, embarrassed the administration and put a spotlight on wasteful spending by the GSA, which acts as a real estate agency for the federal government.

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Democrats have called the spending spree unacceptable, but have also said that GSA conference spending increased more dramatically during the Bush years.

Congressional Republicans say that GSA conference costs dropped from roughly $400,000 to $324,000 between 2004 and 2006. Democrats at the White House say that conference costs jumped from roughly $94,000 to $324,000. Both sides agree that GSA conference costs subsequently rose to approximately $655,000 in 2008 and $820,000 in 2010.

Even under the GOP's estimate, the overall percentage increase in conference spending is higher in Bush's second term than in Obama's first. The question is one of magnitude.

A recently released inspector general's report detailing the excesses of the 2010 conference resulted in the resignation of GSA chief Martha Johnson and the dismissal of several other high-ranking agency officials. Congressional investigators have also accused the GSA of violating its employee gift limit with rewards of iPods, digital cameras and other electronics.

Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a video released this week that the agency has already taken several steps to prevent future wasteful spending. He said the 2010 conference "violated rules of common sense, the spirit of public service, and the trust that America's taxpayers have placed in all of us."

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