Democratic-led panels to question GSA officials

AP News
Posted: Apr 18, 2012 2:28 AM
Democratic-led panels to question GSA officials

Democratic-led Senate committees are getting their chance to question General Services Administration officials after two days of GOP hearings into an agency portrayed as running amok with taxpayers' money on the Obama administration's watch.

The Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing on GSA spending Wednesday, followed a few hours later by the Appropriations subcommittee that controls the GSA budget.

Both avoided calling as witnesses the current and former GSA officials who allowed excessive travel to the South Pacific islands and California's Napa Valley and Palm Springs and let taxpayers pay for parties in resort suites. Lawmakers from the two Republican-dominated House committees shouted angry questions at the officials for two days, although the outrage was bipartisan.

Instead, the Senate committees have summoned Dan Tangherlini, the acting GSA administrator who was sent by the administration to clean up the nation's real estate and supply agency. His testimony the past two days was largely overshadowed because Republicans wanted to talk about the scandal.

The Senate committees also called Inspector General Brian Miller, whose April 2 report on an $823,000 conference in Las Vegas triggered investigations by four congressional committees.

By limiting testimony to those two, the Democrats can concentrate on how to change the spending culture at the GSA, even as they condemn past behavior.

The Bush administration's stewardship of the GSA had its own problems. Former GSA chief Lurita Doan resigned in May 2008 at the request of the White House.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., then chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had criticized her tenure_ which featured a noncompetitive order to a company run by a friend and alleged requests asking political appointees how they could help GOP candidates.

On Tuesday, testimony and documents showed the main figure in the GSA spending scandal took trips to Hawaii, Napa Valley and South Pacific islands, all after the agency's inspector general warned top officials about the excesses.

A timeline released by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee showed that GSA executive Jeffrey Neely took five trips totaling 44 days after the May 2011 warning _ including a 17-day trip to Hawaii, Guam and Saipan that he and his wife planned as a birthday celebration, according to emails between the two.