Senators turn to GSA's regional offices for answers on spending abuses

After asking the General Services Administration’s acting administrator about excessive agency spending on conferences, two senators are now digging for answers directly from the agency’s regional offices.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member respectively, of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on May 18, they want to determine whether GSA's Region 9, which organized the now-infamous Western Regions Conference of 2010, was an outlier or if a culture of excess and skirting contracting policy was pervasive across GSA.

They sent letters to each GSA regional administrator, based on the GSA inspector general's findings in an investigation into the conference. The IG's probe led to the resignation of Administrator Martha Johnson and the firing of other top officials. 

“The waste, excessive spending, and possible fraud uncovered as a result of this investigation and continuing investigations cause us grave concern,” Lieberman and Collins said in a joint statement. “In light of the array of problems uncovered by the [conference] investigation, we seek to understand whether there is a wider problem at GSA.”

Their letter asks the 11 regional administrators about conference budgets and spending from fiscal 2008 to 2012, and who oversees that spending. They want specifics on conferences, particularly those costing more than $10,000.

The senators asked in-depth about contract spending. Inside the acquisition offices too, the senators want answers about the contracting officers in charge of the region’s contracts, employees who hold purchase card authority, and the reporting hierarchy within the regional offices. Surrounding the 2010 conference, GSA officials awarded some contracts that didn’t follow procurement rules, according to the IG’s report.

“These issues are even more troubling given GSA’s unique and lead role in contracting and management of travel and conference planning,” the letter states.

Regional administrators have until June 1 to answer.

This letter comes a week after Lieberman and Collins sent letters to the GSA IG Brian Miller and Tangherlini. They recommended that Tangherlini have GSA’s chief financial officer review conference spending and a representative sampling of per diem expenses. They also told Tangherlini to go over GSA’s policies for granting contracting warrants, which give authority to enter contracts on the government's behalf.

“GSA must ensure that only qualified personnel serve as contracting officers,” they wrote in their letter.

Lieberman and Collins are also asking Tangherlini about financial controls over the regions, his overall review of GSA, relocation expenses and travel cards, and discipline for misconduct related to the 2010 conference.

Tangherlini’s response is due May 31.

About the Author

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

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