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U.S. procurement agency embroiled in new spending scandal

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 19, 2012 4:08 PM
U.S. procurement agency embroiled in new spending scandal

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Disclosure of another lavish party thrown by the U.S. government's buildings and procurement agency prompted fresh attacks on Thursday from Republican lawmakers on wasteful Washington spending under President Barack Obama.

The General Services Administration spent at least $268,732 on a one-day performance awards ceremony in November 2010 -- including $20,578 on wooden drumsticks -- the agency's inspector general revealed to Congress as part of an investigation.

The Washington, D.C.-area event came a month after the GSA's western region held a lavish, $820,000 training conference in Las Vegas that prompted the ouster of the agency's chief earlier this year and a management shake-up.

"Every time we turn around, there's another scandal involving GSA," said Representative John Mica, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the agency.

"GSA has a history of subverting the will of the president on salary freezes and Congress on real estate decisions. This out-of-control agency is not above the law, and the transportation committee will continue its work to investigate and reform this arrogant and wasteful agency," Mica added.

A partial accounting of expenses from GSA inspector general Brian Miller revealed that the agency paid a public relations firm $140,464 to manage the November 2010 gathering. That sum included $20,578 for 4,000 drumsticks given to attendees as part of a "drum band exercise."

Miller also notified lawmakers of $28,364 spent on 4,000 picture frames that displayed the time and temperature and were distributed at the conference. Another $7,697 was spent on a "commissioner's reception" for 200 attendees who were serenaded by a violinist and a guitarist as they consumed beverages, hors d'oeuvres and pastries.

The agency, which manages government buildings and procures everything from printing supplies to washroom soap, showed that 49 attendees racked up $48,735 in travel expenses.

Mica and the panel's public buildings subcommittee chairman, Jeff Denham, said additional details on the expenses were scarce because they were notified of the matter on Thursday. They vowed to hold a hearing on the expenditures within two weeks.

"This is no longer just a regional issue, this is an issue within all of the culture of GSA," said Denham, a Republican.

"We want to see exactly how far up this goes and how widespread this type of waste and corruption is within government. There's got to be other agencies out there doing this," he said.

CONFERENCE NO-TOLERANCE

The incident, however, was brought to the inspector general's attention by the GSA's new acting administrator, Dan Tangherlini, who was brought in to shake up the agency in April after news of the Las Vegas conference scandal broke.

Republican lawmakers have accused the Obama administration of keeping the inspector general's probe into the Las Vegas conference quiet for more than a year.

GSA had been holding the Washington awards ceremony each year since 2002.

"Today, under the new GSA leadership, this event and type of spending is not tolerated," GSA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said in a statement. "As of April 2012, all spending for events, including training conferences, leadership events, team-building exercises, award ceremonies, were suspended," she said.

Tangherlini, who was a senior manager at the Treasury Department, this week cut executive bonuses, instituted a hiring freeze and canceled 36 GSA conferences, Alcantara said.

(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Stacey Joyce)