Congressman: GSA officials absent from hearing 'have ducked'

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee expects to have GSA testifying about its spending choices, but the invited officials are not saying no.

A panel of House members voiced frustrations Aug. 1 that senior General Services Administration officials could not testify at its hearing about employee bonuses and conference spending.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he tried three times to schedule a hearing with GSA officials. But nothing worked out. Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini had a family engagement scheduled for today, and Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Steve Kempf took a medical leave beginning on July 30 and scheduled for two months.

At a hearing held August 1, Mica apologized to Cynthia Metzler, chief administrative services officer at GSA, for her having to face the committee members’ questions about GSA’s spending alone. The questioning ran for about two hours.

“The others have ducked and hidden for cover,” Mica said.

Metzler told the panel that Tangherlini had reached out to the committee to request that this hearing be rescheduled at a mutually convenient date so that he could personally appear, but was informed that the committee was electing to proceed with today’s hearing knowing he would be unable to attend. She said Tangherlini is willing to work with the committee.

The hearing centered on an awards ceremony in 2010 that cost that cost $268,732. The GSA Inspector General is investigating the awards ceremony. According to preliminary findings, the event was held at the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, Va., and officials spent more than $35,000 for 4,000 “time temperature picture frames,” $20,000 for catering charges as well as paying for a violinist and guitarist.The spending reflects the fiasco that erupted in April over the Western Regions Conference in 2010 in Las Vegas.

GSA’s current senior officials, including Tangherlini and Kempf, will have a chance to testify eventually. “They will not be let off the hook,” Mica said.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said her constituents include GSA employees and they have relayed their frustration, as they do their job diligently. The profligate spending that the IG has uncovered is "disgusting and it's not worthy of the taxpayer," she said. "It's not worthy of the citizens of this country, and GSA needs to get its house in order."

Edwards praised Tangherlini's efforts to change GSA spending habits, but "he needs to be in front of this committee," she said.

GSA IG Brian Miller would not answer some questions on the ground that his office is in the midst of investigating the award ceremony.

Metzler said that since April, GSA officials have required justifications for holding conferences and other events, in order to avoid over-the-top spending.

Members also brought up their frustrations with bonuses GSA hands out to many of its employees. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the committee's ranking member, recommended that Miller look in-depth at bonuses.

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