Senator wants approvals for conference spending

In the wake of the General Services Administration’s overspending debacle, a forthcoming bill would require a senior official's approval before an agency could host a conference. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced on April 18 she will introduce the Accountability in Government Act.

The bill would put agencies under tough scrutiny when hosting conferences. A senior official, such as the chief management officer, would have to give approval for any conference costing more than $200,000.

For an agency to sponsor an event, officials would have to notify Congress with detailed information about it.

Furthermore, the bill would bar an agency from giving bonuses to employees or supervisors under investigation by an inspector general, who have been found to fail to follow contracting regulations, or who supervised actions that have led to fraud or abuse of funds.

McCaskill, chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, drafted the legislation in reaction to the overspending and waste at GSA’s Western Regions Conference. The conference in Las Vegas for 300 GSA employees cost more than $822,000, much of it squandered on repeated trips to Vegas and stays in luxury hotels for GSA personnel during the planning phase, and extravagant decorations, catering and entertainment during the event, according to the recent Inspector General report..

“I’m aiming to make sure that agency leaders can’t just shrug off responsibility for wrongdoing, and to see that employees who betray the public’s trust by wasting taxpayer dollars are punished, not rewarded for bad behavior,” she said.

Former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and other GSA officials have faced questions from lawmakers this week about the conference, as well as the bonus given to Jeff Neely, the agency’s Pacific Rim regional commissioner who’s now on leave. Neely played a major role in arranging the 2010 conference. He also received a bonus while under an investigation by the IG.

More legislation may be coming too, in an effort to make GSA more transparent in its spending.

At a hearing April 17, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, told GSA officials he is considering legislation to open GSA’s financial records. It would require GSA to get approval for its administrative budget each year, Denham said. The specific bill has not been introduced yet.

“GSA has continued to operate under a culture of abuse with no consequences, and I share in the public outrage,” he said.

About the Author

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

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 20, 2012

This bill would condone $200,000 for all conferences. Every conference I've attended had a registration fee - presumably to cover why would $200K from an agencies budget even be necessary?? By the way, the article said 300 GSA employees attended the conference. $200,000 divided by 300 employees equals $666,666666666 etc. Senator McCaskill, the devil's in the details and your bill is a kneejerk reaction rather than well thought out to make an improvement!! Let more heads roll and you'll get better compliance.

Thu, Apr 19, 2012

Accountability is the answer. Fire or punish the offenders and quit adding tiers and rings of oversight and approval that cost more than a rogue conference. I am tired of the political process that shuns individual accountability in favor of grandstanding and adding permanent bureacracy. If the cost vs value of all the oversight were known, GSA's shrimp would look like a bargain.

Thu, Apr 19, 2012

While we are at it let's add a notification by Congress before they take a junket or co sponsor an earmark. What's good for the goose...

Thu, Apr 19, 2012

Rather than punishing the entire government why not hold those responsible accountable?? Passing this bill will waste more money that most conferences cost.

Thu, Apr 19, 2012 Paul

This is definitely a good idea to have higher level approval. As long as we only have to inform Congress, rather than get their approval, than I'd have no issue with this.

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