Misconduct at the General Services Administration extended beyond overspending on a Las Vegas conference to the possible theft of Apple Inc. (AAPL:US) iPods by employees, lawmakers were told today.
Brian Miller, the inspector general whose report on the Las Vegas conference brought GSA abuses to light, told a House subcommittee that his office subpoenaed Apple and discovered that 115 iPods meant for an employee-rewards program had gone missing, one of which was traced to the daughter of a GSA official who has been placed on administrative leave.
Jeff Neely, the regional GSA commissioner who oversaw the $823,000 Las Vegas conference being investigated by Congress, didn’t appear at a second day of hearings on the event.
Neely, placed on leave following the inspector general report, refused to testify yesterday in an appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, citing his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. He had been invited to testify today also.
“I guess the only way we’ll get to see him is on a video in the hot tub,” Representative John Mica, a Republican from Florida who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said at the hearing. The New York Post today published a photo that it said was of Neely in a hot tub in Las Vegas.
Today’s hearing was held by a subcommittee of Mica’s committee amid growing criticism of the GSA by lawmakers from both parties.
Lisa Daniels, a General Services Administration event planner, told the subcommittee today she was unable to prepare testimony because she was placed on administrative leave last week and didn’t have access to her computer or files. Daniels was excused and advised to hire an attorney.
Miller said his office has been investigating other trips and conferences involving GSA employees, as well as the “Hat’s Off” rewards program that offered iPods.
The GSA, which manages property and purchases goods and services for other government agencies, held its gathering at the M Resort Spa Casino in Henderson, Nevada. The event featured a mind reader, a clown and a $75,000 bicycle-building exercise. It also included $8,130 to print “yearbooks” for participants and $6,325 for commemorative coins, according to the agency’s inspector general.
Breakfast for $44
The conference included breakfasts with a price tag of $44 a person, more than triple the $12-a-person government allowance for Las Vegas, according to the April 2 report.
President Barack Obama was “outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars,” Jacob Lew, White House chief of staff, said in an April 2 e-mailed statement. Johnson fired two senior agency officials and disciplined others before resigning, Lew said.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, was the first of at least four congressional committees that have scheduled hearings this week on the GSA’s conference spending spree.
Miller told the Oversight committee at yesterday’s hearing that he has asked the Department of Justice to consider criminal charges.
Dan Tangherlini, the new acting administrator for GSA, told lawmakers he had canceled 35 GSA conferences in response to the report, saving taxpayers $995,686. Tangherlini said he would work closely with Miller to recover money spent at the Las Vegas conference.
Tangherlini joined the GSA from the Treasury Department on April 2 to replace GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, who resigned following the inspector general’s report on the five- day conference in 2010 for about 300 agency employees.
Johnson apologized at yesterday’s hearing. “I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my appointment,” she said in her opening statement. She was appointed by the Obama administration and confirmed in 2010.
Issa has requested government-wide data about the cost and frequency of agency-funded overnight conferences and the individuals hired to plan those events.
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