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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