Federal Times Blogs
General Services Administration regional commissioner Jeff Neely’s wife had her own parking space at a federal building, the agency’s inspector general said today — even though she is not a federal employee.
The revelation was the latest nugget to come out of the ongoing conference spending scandal that has already brought down large swaths of the agency’s leadership. And judging by IG Brian Miller’s comments to the Senate Appropriations financial services and general government subcommittee, plenty more is likely to come out. The OIG is conducting “many more investigations,” he said, though he could not say exactly how many.
“Every time you turn over a stone, we find 50 more … instances” of wrongdoing, Miller said. “We find one thing after another.”
Miller said that his office only discovered today that Neely’s wife Deborah had her own space throughout 2012.
Neely apparently brought his wife along to multiple GSA events, including a 2009 scouting trip to Las Vegas to prepare for the infamous 2010 Western Regions Conference — an excursion that resulted in some embarrassing photos.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., criticized Neely earlier this week for allowing his wife to take part in agency events at taxpayer expense.
“The impression conveyed by these documents is that Mr. Neely and his wife believed they were some sort of agency royalty, who used taxpayer funds to bankroll their lavish lifestyle,” Cummings said at a hearing Monday.
Neely, who is the Region 9 commissioner for GSA’s Public Buildings Service, is on administrative leave.
Miller told the Senate subcommittee — as he also did yesterday — that Neely often put people down who tried to raise concerns about the spending habits at GSA’s Region 9 and “squashed [them] like bugs.” As a result, a culture grew where people were afraid to speak up when something was wrong.
But that is now changing, Miller said.
“We have been receiving a lot of whistleblower complaints since this report was released,” Miller said. “It has gotten tremendously better.”
Acting General Services Administration head Dan Tangherlini just posted a YouTube video addressing the burgeoning conference spending scandal — and he is not happy. The infamous 2010 Western Regions Conference didn’t just violate travel, acquisition and good conduct rules, he said: It undermined GSA’s entire purpose.
Just as importantly, those responsible violated rules of common sense, the spirit of public service, and the trust that America’s taxpayers have placed in all of us. Among other things, GSA creates and manages the rules and regulations governing travel and conferences. As a result, the actions of those responsible for the Western Regions Conference cut to the heart of what we do and who we are. They undermine both our mission and the trust we have developed with our customers — including the most important customer of all, the American public.
This will “never happen again,” Tangherlini said. He went on to outline some steps that have been taken in response to the revelations, such as an agency-wide review of all conferences and events and the suspension of GSA’s troubled Hats Off awards program, pending a “top-down review.” And in his most stinging rebuke, Tangherlini said:
Serving our customers well is reward enough. It is a signal that our commitment is to our service, our duty and our nation, and not to conferences, awards or parties.
It’s clear that Tangherlini understands just how damaging these revelations have been to GSA — and that he doesn’t want to hear anybody around him say the conference was no big deal. One of his first comments in this damage-control video is, “If you haven’t already, I urge you to read the report. When you do, you’ll see that what took place was completely unacceptable. [...] I speak for the overwhelming majority of GSA staff when I say we are shocked and deeply disappointed by these indefensible actions.”
The General Services Administration’s conference spending scandal shows no signs of quitting. House Republicans have chomped down on it hard as an example of out-of-control government waste, and GSA officials are dropping left and right. The fallout is bound to affect federal employees across the government, and change how agencies think about travel and conferences.
We’d like to hear from you. What’s your take on GSA’s conference spending? Is it a big deal to you, or does it just reflect the status quo in the government? Has your office instituted any changes yet? Are you already getting pressure to rein in travel and conference spending? And what do you think the focus on this issue is doing to the public image of feds?
The General Services Administration’s infamous Las Vegas conference is turning into a viral video bonanza. The clip of a GSA employee rapping about becoming commissioner and blowing cash exploded last Thursday, even reaching the Daily Show. And today, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., released another video in which GSA employees sing about going green to the tune of Patti LaBelle’s “Ready for a Miracle.”
This new one … well … let’s just say it’s no “When I’m Commissioner.” At this point, I’m not sure what’s worse — the government waste or the butchering of a gospel classic. And the awards-show banter following the song suggests it was made during office hours, which makes it look even worse. (“Was there anybody in Region 7 that wasn’t in that thing?” “If they didn’t work on Friday, chances are they weren’t in that video.”
Huffington Post also uploaded a slew of videos from GSA’s 2010 conference Friday, including this disturbing one about a surly, smoking office clown that must be seen to be believed.
UPDATE: GSA’s comment on the latest videos is the same as their last: “These videos reinforce once again the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference. Our agency continues to be appalled by this indefensible behavior, and we are taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
Last night, the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart weighed in on the General Services Administration’s conference spending scandal and zeroed in on what may be its most appalling angle: The sheer lameness of the crap GSA bought with $822,000 in taxpayer dollars. Said an outraged Stewart:
Canteens, clowns and bicycles? You’re in Vegas! Unless those canteens were filled with cocaine [...], you are a disgrace to corruption everywhere. I think I’m less upset about the waste of money than I am with the waste of opportunity.
[...] Yearbooks! They got yearbooks! The people in government known for efficiency and cost-cutting made sure they had physical evidence of the boondoggle they had in Vegas.
Stewart then shows a mock yearbook photo of former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and dubbed her “Most likely to resign over an event that betrays an almost comical misunderstanding of the agency’s mission.”
The language, though bleeped, gets pretty salty at times, so be warned.
UPDATED WITH GSA STATEMENT: This may be the last thing the beleaguered General Services Administration needed after its lavish conference-spending scandal. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee just released a prize-winning music video from that conference in which an employee raps about all the cool stuff he’s going to buy when he’s the boss. Which really doesn’t look good in retrospect, considering that infamous Las Vegas conference cost GSA $822,000 and brought down Administrator Martha Johnson and several other top officials.
The irony in the video runs a mile deep. After a languid ukelele intro laying out his dream of becoming commissioner of GSA’s Public Building Service, the employee — identified as Hank Terlaje — launches into rap-reggae song, bragging about buying field offices supplies and awarding bonuses. And then comes the most cringe-worthy line, considering what happened next because of this conference: “Donate my vacation, love to the nation/I’ll never be under OIG investigation.”
After the song ends, the video switches to the award ceremony, where Terlaje is jokingly named “commissioner for a day” — replacing former commissioner Bob Peck, who was also fired on Monday for his role in staging the conference.
And then, deputy commissioner of the Public Building Service David Foley delivers the video’s second-most cringe-worthy line when he tells Terlaje, “The hotel would like to talk to you about paying for the party that was held in the commissioner’s suite last night.” Which, again, doesn’t look very good, considering the conference actually did blow tens of thousands of dollars on catered food (not to mention the $3,200 for a mind reader, $6,300 for a commemorative coin set, and $75,000 for a training exercise that involved building a bicycle).
Of course, there’s nothing at all to suggest Terlaje had anything to do with that excessive spending. All he’s guilty of is singing a song with an infectious chorus — and I’d say that even if he didn’t give this publication a shout-out. (Although when Mr. Terlaje sang “Every time I close my eyes/I see my name on Federal Times,” I doubt this is how he imagined it happening.)
UPDATE: GSA just sent the following statement in response to the video:
This video is another example of the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference. Our agency continues to be appalled by this indefensible behavior, and we are taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.
The full song and the award ceremony is below.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is keeping pressure on the FBI to reform in the wake of a cheating scandal. Collins sent FBI Director Bob Mueller a letter Oct. 7 that said he should immediately punish those who cheated on an important exam on domestic investigations rules and privacy, and force any cheater who wasn’t fired to retake the exam.
Collins also wants the FBI to conduct a department-wide review to find out if there were any other cheaters that weren’t identified by an inspector general investigation. Mueller last month said disciplinary actions are being taken against cheaters and promised to follow up on any other allegations of misconduct
Justice IG Glenn Fine released a report Sept. 27 that found dozens to hundreds of FBI agents and other employees — including the former assistant director in charge of the Washington field office and two of his special agents in charge — cheated on the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) exam. Some allegedly improperly collaborated on the test, others allegedly shared answer sheets, and others may have hacked into the FBI’s computers to obtain answers.
Collins said the scandal indicates the FBI doesn’t take the DIOG seriously: