Tougher GSA oversight part of new legislation

The General Services Administration could come under tighter restrictions if new legislation passes, based on recent revelations about its spending habits.

House appropriators have proposed putting the General Services Administration under tighter restrictions, based on information that has come to light in the past few months, starting with the reports of overspending at the Western Regions Conference in 2010.

The $21.15 billion fiscal 2013 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act includes several new oversight measures based on GSA’s “questionable spending of tax dollars,” the House Appropriations Committee wrote June 5.

Under the proposed language of the bill, GSA officials would have to submit quarterly reports to several congressional oversight committees on spending each period and what they expect to spend in the coming period. The information would have to be broken down by object class, office and activity.

In addition, GSA officials would have to submit itemized reports on funds charged to the Working Capital Fund with detailed explanations for each charge.

GSA would not be able to spend money on a conference unless the administrator certified that it is appropriate and agency is complying with all laws related to travel and conferences. The bill would require an inspector general report into procedures related to travel, conferences, and employee awards.

The procurement agency brought conference spending and travel to national attention when an IG report revealed GSA spent $822,000 on a conference for 300 of its employees in Las Vegas in 2010.

Other agencies have questioned their travel costs too. On June 4, the Air Force announced it had canceled its annual IT conference, which had been scheduled for late August in Montgomery, Ala., citing spending worries.

Under the proposed spending bill, GSA could not make awards to its employees that exceed the limits the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management laid out in 2011.

For individual performance awards for an agency’s senior executive service, senior-level, scientific, and/or professional employees, the agency can spend no more than 5 percent of those employees’ aggregate salaries. For all other employees, including General Schedule employees, an agency can spend no more than 1 percent of those employees’ aggregate salaries, according to the joint memo released in June 2011.

On June 4, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) shared the initial findings from her investigation into GSA, showing that the procurement agency has paid $1.1 million in bonuses since 2008 to employees being investigated by the IG for wrongdoing or misconduct. Those bonuses went to 84 employees. What’s more, they received an average of eight bonus awards each.

Along with GSA, the spending bill provides annual funding for the Treasury Department, the Executive Office of the President, the Judiciary, the District of Columbia, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and several other independent agencies. The total spending reduction from the president’s budget proposal is $2 billion, or 8 percent.

“In addition to common-sense reductions in federal spending, the American people deserve accountability from the taxpayer-funded offices, which are supposed to act in the nation’s best interests,” Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), chairwoman of the committee’s Financial Services and General Government, said about the bill’s oversight provisions.

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