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GSA scandal: Does agency have culture of waste, fraud, and abuse?

Critics of the huge federal bureaucracy have a history of missteps to cite, from well before the latest GSA scandal, in which Jeffrey Neeley authorized $823,000 for a conference in Las Vegas. 

By Staff writer / April 17, 2012

Former GSA Public Buildings Service Commissioner Robert Peck testifies on Capitol Hill Tuesday, as Congress continues its investigation of excessive spending by General Services Administration officials in 2010 at a conference at a Las Vegas resort.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Washington

Is there a culture of waste, fraud, and abuse at the General Services Administration? That’s what some lawmakers are charging in the wake of a second day of House hearings into lavish taxpayer-funded GSA junkets to Las Vegas and other resort spots.

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The fact that western US GSA official Jeffrey Neeley opted for a clown show, a mind-reader, $6,000 in commemorative coins, a $75,000 bicycle-building team exercise, and 2,000 square-foot suites at the Las Vegas blow-out is but part of the story, according to members of a panel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

After all, Mr. Neeley won a $9,000 performance bonus from GSA higher-ups following the $823,000 Las Vegas conference.

Other GSA regions have shown problems, according to reports from the agency’s inspector general. In Kansas City, GSA officials hired an expensive public relations agency to handle complaints about possible exposure to toxic environmental substances at the GSA-managed Bannister Federal Building. In Los Angeles, the GSA is proceeding with a new federal courthouse despite vacant space in nearby federal buildings.

“This culture of fraud, waste, corruption, cover ups – while we can’t prove it yet, there certainly is the perception that there’s an inside deal on some of these things.... This certainly is not only a dark day for the FSA, but it is a dark day for the United States government,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R) of California, chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee.

Neeley himself, the commissioner for the Public Buildings Service in the Pacific Rim region, did not appear at Tuesday's hearing. On Monday he appeared but cited his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent under lawmakers’ questioning.

On Tuesday no present or past GSA official defended Neeley’s actions. But some defended the agency itself, saying that rogue actions shouldn’t tar a vast bureaucracy that for the most part keeps the federal government running smoothly.

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