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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. 

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The Las Vegas spree, as detailed in an inspector general report, “dishonored the thousands of hard-working and dedicated federal employees I have worked with over the years,” said Robert Peck, the former GSA commissioner for the Public Buildings Service, who lost his job because of the Neeley revelations.

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Unfortunately for the GSA’s defenders, critics now have a history of agency missteps to cite. Lawmakers reminded GSA witnesses of a 2010 hearing they’d held in a vacant DC federal building, next to the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, in an attempt to get the agency to turn the building into a productive property.

In 2011, 11 GSA employees and contractors pleaded guilty to a kick-back scheme following a five-year Justice Department investigation. In 2008, GSA chief Lurita Doan resigned after being accused of steering a contact to a friend. (Ms. Doan denied the charge.) In 2006, GSA chief of staff David Safavian was found guilty of lying to the inspector general and members of Congress about his efforts to help lobbyist Jack Abramoff gain control of GSA buildings, including the Old Post Office itself.

Thus the GSA now seems a tempting target for congressional Republicans, who hold it up as an example of big government’s inherent problems.

“We wonder why there’s so much mistrust of government,” said Congressman Denham at the close of Tuesday’s hearing.

In fact, the scandal has let some conservatives to wonder aloud why the US has a GSA at all. It’s core functions – the management of federal property, and the purchase of basic supplies for all non-Pentagon US agencies – could just as well be subcontracted to private firms, said conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin.

“It’s a fact of Beltway life that the public can get riled up over a boondoggle trip, but the existence of a bloated bureaucracy wasting goodness-knows how much money isn’t questioned. Until now,” writes Rubin.

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