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article imageGSA Las Vegas scandal 'tip of iceberg'

By Larry Clifton     Jul 31, 2012 in Politics
Washington - Jeff Neely, the GSA government official photographed living it up in a hot tub at a Las Vegas conference symbolized U.S. government waste in the GSA scandals.
But an investigation launched after it was learned GSA dumped nearly a million dollars into the lavish affair has revealed the 2010 Las Vegas junket was just a drop in the bucket, the Champaign bucket.
"He (Jeff Neely) was the tip of the iceberg," says Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.
Mica's committee is now looking into wasteful spending at as many as 77 other General Services Administration (GSA) conferences -- all uncovered in documents obtained by Fox News.
The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show the extent to which GSA dumped money into questionable conferences, sometimes with little or no record of spending, according to the Fox News report.
One free-spending conference was held in 2010 in Crystal City, Va., where GSA employees within the Federal Acquisition Service spent hours drumming in what administrators billed as a "team-building" exercise.
Lawmakers first uncovered that conference earlier this month, documents obtained exclusively by Fox News show millions in taxpayer dollars were spent there on bonus handouts.
According to the records, more than 3,700 employees received bonuses averaging about $1,000 apiece at the conference. The cost to taxpayers was $3.6 million minus the cost of a consultant who headed up the exercise.
"The private company that hands out bonuses and rewards far beyond its ability to pay is going to be out of business. In the government, it seems to matter less because so many people seem to qualify," said Tom Schatz, of Citizens Against Government Waste.
Fox News' FOIA request found several GSA conferences have no record of spending -- no receipts and no way to account for the cost associated with travel and conference spending.
"It wouldn't surprise taxpayers to learn that these kinds of omissions occur at every agency. The lack of accountability is so bad that it's impossible to fire anyone," Schatz said. "It takes a hot-tub scandal to get rid of people at these agencies."
Firing more GSA employees may be exactly what Mica, chairman of the House transportation committee, has in mind when he opens a new round of hearings Wednesday on the lavish GSA conferences.
"They tried to do everything they could to cover up the October 2010 Las Vegas fiasco. Now, we're hearing there are dozens more. We're going to drag in all the parties involved and get to the bottom of this scandal," Mica told Fox News.
Questioned about the lack of accountability, a GSA spokesman sent a written response to Fox News which said:
"As of April 2012 all spending for events, including training conferences, leadership events, team building exercises, award ceremonies, were suspended. The 2010 awards ceremony was an annual event and has been in existence going back to 2002. Under the new GSA leadership these events and this type of spending are not tolerated."
But Mica wants to inquire if, indeed, some of the wasteful spending practices have continued even after the departures of some administrators who had a hand in the profligate conference spending.
"This is very disappointing. Some replacements may be involved in latest scandals so that complicated our investigation," Mica said.
More about gsa scandal, Jeff Neely gsa, Rep John Mica, gsa government waste
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