House votes to curtail lavish spending by federal agencies

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 25, 2012 8:15 PM
House votes to curtail lavish spending by federal agencies

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a rare display of bipartisanship, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill on Wednesday to avoid a repeat of an election-year government spending scandal involving the General Services Administration.

On a voice vote, the Republican-led House sent the measure to the Democratic-led Senate for needed concurrence. The Senate voted in favor of such action earlier this week as part of unrelated legislation.

Both chambers must pass the same piece of legislation before it can be sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The House-passed Digital Accountability and Transparency Act would establish an independent commission to oversee efforts on the accountability of federal expenditures.

It comes in the wake of a GSA inspector general's report earlier this month that disclosed that $823,000 in taxpayers' money was spent on a lavish, four-day GSA training conference in Las Vegas in 2010.

The House bill would limit federal spending on individual conferences to $500,000 and require explanations of how such conferences advance the missions of agencies.

In addition, the legislation would prohibit federal agencies from sending more than 50 people to an overseas conference unless the State Department determines that more are needed.

"Today's strong bipartisan showing is a major win for transparency and accountability," said Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa's committee was one of four congressional panels that held hearings last week on the 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas.

The GSA inspector general's April 3 report revealed that the conference for 300 employees at a swank Las Vegas hotel featured private parties, fine food, a talent show, a mind reader, a clown, a comic and $75,000 for team-building exercises.

The GSA, with about 13,000 employees, manages federal buildings and purchases of government supplies.

Republicans pounced on the GSA scandal as evidence that the Obama administration had failed to bring federal spending under control and had permitted abuses.

Democrats noted that such abuses had persisted for years during Republican and Democratic administrations and that major action was needed by Congress to stamp it out.

Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on Issa's committee, called the bill "a message to the public that we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that they have as much information as possible about where their money goes."

Issa and Cummings are chief sponsors of the House measure.

While work on the House bill began nearly a year ago, it was quickly revised recently in response to the Las Vegas conference.

The Senate agreed unanimously on Tuesday to add the House measure to a bill to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service. It was offered by Republican Senator Tom Coburn.

"Congress has finally said ‘the party's over' when it comes to conference spending," Coburn said.

(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Peter Cooney)