GSA scandal: Congress gangs up on bureaucrats behaving badly

The one budget cut both parties love is government waste, and four congressional hearings on the GSA scandal give lawmakers the chance to drill that point home – repeatedly.

Yuri Gripas/REUTERS
Jeff Neely of the General Services Administration (GSA) declines to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on 'Addressing GSA's Culture of Wasteful Spending' on Capitol Hill in Washington Monday.

When the General Services Administration (GSA) executive responsible for a 2010 Las Vegas "conference" replete with mind reader and clown (tab to taxpayers: $823,000) came to Washington on Monday, he was flown in on the government dime from California.

Jeffrey Neely, now on administrative leave as GSA's western regional administrator, had been called to appear at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California.

After that flight paid for by the federal government, Mr. Neely repeated pleaded the Fifth Amendment, declining to respond to questions.

"Irony alert," tweeted CNN's Dana Bash.

But readers should also see a "dog and pony show" alert on all the GSA hype for the coming week – really, does Congress need four hearings on the subject in the next three days? Probably not. But the politics are just too good to ignore.

In case you're desperate for wall-to-wall GSA coverage, the schedule is as follows:

  • Monday, 1:30 p.m., by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
  • Tuesday 8:30 a.m., by the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings, and emergency management.
  • Wednesday 10 a.m., by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
  • Wednesday 2:30 p.m., by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government.

There is, of course, some scintilla of broader scandal here: The head of the GSA resigned after the administration's inspector general released his report on the Vegas conference, calling spending there "excessive and wasteful."

Excessive and wasteful is absolutely right. But, with unemployment over 8 percent and gas prices pushing $4 a gallon, who is going to miss an opportunity to beat up on Bureaucrats Behaving Badly?

Not President Obama, who "was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars," as White House spokesman Jay Carney put it shortly after the story hit last week.

Not Chairman Issa, who hinted that the Vegas conference is likely to be part of "a pattern of behavior that is costing the American people hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, and setting a bad example for the rest of the federal workforce” on CBS This Morning on Monday.

Not the top Democrat on the House panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland, who in his opening statement called the lavish GSA spending "indefensible."

With "government waste" about the only thing in Washington that gets bipartisan support for being cut, its no small wonder that both sides of the aisle are piling on.

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