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Jeff Neely, a regional General Services Administration commissioner who oversaw an $823,000 Las Vegas conference being investigated by Congress, didn’t appear at a second day of hearings on the event.
Neely, who is on administrative leave, 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.
Today’s hearing is being held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican, amid growing criticism of the GSA by lawmakers from both parties.
Lisa Daniels, a General Services Administration event planner, told the committee today she was unable to prepare testimony for the committee 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.
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.
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.
Brian Miller, the GSA inspector general whose report brought the matter to public attention, 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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