GSA could get another congressional hearing on its calendar

It’s not yet over for the General Services Administration.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on April 13 to schedule a hearing about GSA's spending habits. She wants the committee to look into the infamously lavish Western Regions conference, held in Las Vegas in 2010, and also about employee bonuses and money spent relocating a single employee.

“Our committee is uniquely situated to examine what appear to be numerous violations of acquisition rules and policy identified by GSA’s inspector general,” she wrote in her letter.

Liebeman had not responded to Collins' request as of late on the afternoon of April 13, so it is uncertain whether that hearing will happen.

GSA officials have a heavy schedule already.

Next week, current and former agency officials will spend time on Capitol Hill to answer lawmakers’ questions on three separate occasions. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing April 16. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has a hearing April 17, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has GSA officials on April 18.

Related stories:

GSA's new chief says fiasco 'cuts to heart' of mission

Congress calls GSA officials in wake of scandal

GSA is also expected to go before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee to talk about its appropriations budget request and questions about the Las Vegas conference at a yet-undetermined date.

The General Services Administration has such a broad scope of work—from acquisition to property management—that each of these committees has jurisdiction over aspects of the agency's duties.

However, the number of hearings that have been called has reached the level of overkill, some observers said. Congress has many more substantive issues that government agencies are wrestling with these days, said Phil Kiviat, president of Guerra, Kiviat, Inc., a consulting firm.

“It is a pitiful example of congressional preoccupation with getting attention by sensationalizing minor, but headline-happy events,” Kiviat said.

Jonathan Aronie, a partner in the Government Contracts Practice Group at Sheppard Mullin law firm, agreed, saying “Congress never misses a good opportunity to bayonet the wounded.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Tue, Apr 17, 2012

Running the Executive Branch of our government is a little more complicated than many make it out to be. The Federal government does not operate like a business, because it is nothing like a business. It does not have the same goals and objectives as business (profit), is beholden to the American people not boards of directors or stockholders, and is required to track the money that Congress (power of the purse) legislates (mandates) the Executive Branch must spend. Apparently, it is not widely understood that the Executive Branch can only spend--and is required to spend--in the manner that Congress legislates and appropriates (funds). How could there be transparency in spending without accounting rules (regulation) and transactional coding (more rules) to track and report the spending? It doesn't seem widely understood that agencies go through an extensive funding process whereby they submit to Congress zero-based budgets (look it up) detailing how the agency will spend--in order to accomplish their Congressional mandates--and they testify before Congress in defense of their budgets before they are funded. Agencies absolutely must be held accountable and that's why there are Inspectors General to investigate when folks ignore the rules, as happened with GSA. No one pretends everyone in government is perfect, the vast majority of Federal workers are dedicated civil servants (spare me the distorted and debunked reports that Feds earn more than their private industry counterparts--do a little research on the topic if you are interested in the truth) but all are colored with the broad brush of abuses committed by just a few. This is not at all prevalent in Federal government and when excesses do come to light, the agencies address them. Be supportive of the GSA as it goes forward, restructuring the organization and correcting the broken lines of accountability, in part created by the Senate’s lack of action in confirming nominations, which tied the hands of those in acting roles and allowed a leadership vacuum to form. Ultimately, the GSA will be a better organization as a result of the egregious and shameful actions of a few. But let’s also keep these events in perspective. No one died. The GSA was not responsible for the deaths of our soldiers because of faulty electrical wiring in the showers built for our warfighters by the military contractor. The GSA was not selling girls as sex slaves as was the military contractor paid to train an Afghani police force. And guess what?! Those same companies continue to receive new Federal contracts despite the documented poor performance on existing contracts. Where’s the outrage? What is the value of a soldier’s life? What is the value of a young girls’ innocence? How much waste (corporate welfare) do you suppose goes to the military industrial complex? Let’s keep events in perspective.

Tue, Apr 17, 2012

Catering to employees need to be recognized and come together for a good time is part of morale building and team building. Excessive - definitely, bad timing - absolutely, needed to improve morale - well something is needed. I have recently stopped procuring 2 major contracts through GSA because the people I was working with were difficult, slow and non-responsive to my needs as a customer. There is a problem in GSA and hopefully it is fixed soon but this grandstanding is only going to make it worse before it gets better.

Mon, Apr 16, 2012

I agree that this whole "you have to spend the money by end of fiscal year, no you can't save some through next year to make a larger purchase your office needs, you'll just have to do without" system needs to be changed. However I don't think any government agency should be let off the hook for wasteful spending. Conference in LasVegas, really? We called those 'boondoggles' in the military, and I disapproved of them then too. Have it in Podunk Nebraska, or better yet, at a location where the most folks don't have to travel and is still relatively inexpensive. Valid work related travel is being restricted to the point of interfering with fulfilling the needs of the client, yet other agencies are being frivolous. From $500 haircuts and family vacations on taxpayer dollars in the executive branch all the way down to the GS3 clerk who prints everything in color, wasting taxpayer dollars, it has to stop! The mentality of "it's not my money" or "it has to be spent anyway" or "if I don't spend it, we'll get less next year" has got to stop! If government agencies were allowed to run more like a business, encouraged to save money and innovate instead of being forced to wade through unbelievable amounts of accounting and regulations just to get anything done. As government employees, yes, we should be held to a higher standard of accountability, but we should also be given the ability to make the responsible choices without being penalized.

Mon, Apr 16, 2012

Some people just do not get it. GSA does not "save money", they spend it like any other Federal organization. The Fed is massively in debt, especially these last few years, becasue of spending. To many in the Fed - usually those at higher levels - think it okay to spend more and more money with no thought to the taxpayer because partly they think that they are doing a lot of good by such things as wasting only $10 billion instead of $20 billion and then claiming that they saved $10 billion. The fact is most Fed conferences are at least a partial waste by going overboard on such items as fancy hotels and parties. The last one I went to (was required) I thought was way too expensive and while I learned plenty, most of it was of no help to my job and the rest was of very little help. A teleconference could have easily been done in its place and would have cut the cost by over 80%. These lavish conferences and many other wasteful activities are normal operating procedure by the Fed which is why the taxpayers (at least those who are well informed) are so irate with the Government which is filled with people in its upper levels with a mostly irresponsible attitude on spending taxpayer money. If heads need to roll at GSA (as well as at the rest of the Fed) to bring back some responsibility, then they should go with everything they got to do so.

Mon, Apr 16, 2012

There "lies" the problem if they would quit mandating that if you do not spend the money you will not get enough next year. Send it back to the goverment where other agencies did not meet there needs. Yes, GSA should be accoutable and dismantle because they are the biggest waste in the gobverment. We are paying our own agencies to lease our own buildings, something is wrong with this picture and if we know who else knows it. We have to many back pockets that need to go away, starting with GSA.

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