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Congressional Hearing Told GSA Staff Could Face Criminal Charges
2012-04-18 02:19:55 (232 weeks ago)
Posted By: Intellpuke

Federal government staff who spent more than $800,000 of taxpayers' money on a Las Vegas conference that has become a by-word for extravagance and waste could face criminal charges, congressional hearings into the affair have been told.

They staff involved are also being sent bills in an effort to try to recoup some of the cost. Anger over the lavish spending has led to the cancellation of a series of scheduled conferences by federal employees in other holiday destinations.

Both Republicans and Democrats expressed outrage over the Las Vegas partying on Tuesday, the second day of the hearings into the affair.

Republican Congressman Jeff Denham said Tuesday: "Where crimes have been committed, people will go to jail." He threatened to "systematically pull apart" the government agency responsible.

Details of the spending come at a politically sensitive time, with Republicans in particular expressing concern over the scale of federal spending and the burgeoning national debt.

(story continues below)

One of the congressional hearings was told no evidence could be found of any substantive agenda for the conference in October 2010 at the M Resort and Spa and Casino, in Henderson, on the outskirts of Vegas. Instead, staff spent $823,000 on food, a clown, a mind-reader, bikes for a team-building exercise that were later donated to children, and trips by staff and their families to the Vegas Strip, and a commemorative coin. About 300 staff attended the conference.

The bike-building exercise cost $75,000, the commemorative coins $6,325 and breakfast $44 per person.

The House transportation and infrastructure committee held its hearing Tuesday following one on Monday by the House oversight and government reform committee. Reflecting how much the affair has incensed members of Congress, two other Congressional committees are also lined up to hear evidence.

The staff worked for the general services administration (GSA), which looks after the federal government's real estate.

The official in charge of the conference, Jeffrey Neely, opted against giving evidence, citing his right to remain silent. He did not turn up for the Tuesday hearing.

The abuse of taxpayers' money in Las Vegas was first uncovered by Brian Miller, inspector-general of the GSA who published a report on his findings on April 2, leading to a series of sackings. He gave evidence on Monday and Tuesday at separate hearings and said on Monday that he had asked the department of justice to consider.

Investigations were continuing, said Miller. "We do have other ongoing investigations including all sorts of improprieties, including bribes, possibly kickbacks but I'd have to check precisely on kickbacks," said Miller, adding, "We have recommended criminal charges."

The head of the GSA has resigned and the new acting administrator, Dan Tangherlini, said he is working with Miller to recover the money spent. He also revealed he had cancelled 35 planned GSA conferences that would have cost about $1 million.

Robert Peck, who was fired as commissioner of the public buildings service, is among staff who have been asked to repay at least part of the cost of the Las Vegas trip.

Peck gave evidence Tuesday to the House transportation and infrastructure hearing into what was billed as a hearing into the 'squandering of taxpayer dollars: a pattern of mismanagement, excess and waste'.

Peck said that while he had been on the Las Vegas trip, he had not been involved in the planning. He described the expenses claimed for the conference as "excessive and unacceptable".

He has been sent a letter by the GSA demanding reimbursement of $1,960 for a party in his room in Vegas.

Neely has been asked to pay back $2,717.

Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, quoting from a report, claimed Neely had said: "I know I'm bad, but … why not enjoy it while we have it and while we can; ain't going to last forever."

A Republican Congressman, Trey Gowdy, focused on the bike-building exercise after which the completed bikes were given to boys and girls clubs. "Giving bicycles to indigent children is a beautiful thing," said Gowdy. "Lots of people do it. I just hate that you robbed yourself of the satisfaction by using other people's money to do it."

Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian Washington, D.C., Bureau Chief Ewen Mac Askill in context here:

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