WASHINGTON – The watchdog for the General Services Administration said Wednesday he is not done investigating allegations of wrongdoing tied to the 2010 Las Vegas conference, possibly leading to more calls for criminal prosecution.
Even after releasing an April 2 report that caused a national furor by revealing thousands of dollars in wasteful spending, GSA Inspector General Brian Miller told senators he still is pursuing leads.
Some of them, he said, now are being generated by employees responding to calls to come forward with information on the Las Vegas scandal and others.
“We are continuing ongoing investigations,” Miller said near the end of three days of sometimes intense congressional scrutiny of the federal property agency. “We do not know what we are going to find, but it has not been pretty.”
He acknowledged allegations include kickbacks to vendors and violations in how contractors were chosen for the Western Regions Conference and possibly other GSA events.
Miller said earlier this week he has referred to the Justice Department findings against Jeffrey Neely, the regional commissioner who emerged as the leading figure in the Oct. 25-29, 2010, training meeting for 300 at the M Resort in Henderson that cost taxpayers $823,000.
Asked by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., what was overlooked that allowed conference organizers to carry out “stuff that is pretty blatant,” Miller responded, “Almost everything, senator.”
The agency’s chief investigator, along with new GSA acting administrator Daniel Tangherlini, laid out plans before Senate panels to reorganize the agency.
The tone of the hearings conducted by Democratic senators contrasted with sessions this week in the Republican-led House, where lawmakers from both parties sometimes shouted their outrage and disclosed new elements of the scandal.
The House hearings featured GSA officials who took part in the Western Regions Conference, or who were in charge of the agency and have since lost their jobs or have been put on leave.
Neely, who appeared after being subpoenaed, invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against answering questions about the conference.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the GSA misconduct “makes me cringe” but added, “we’re not looking for photo ops of people taking the Fifth.”
“I think people are getting a little bit tired of it already,” added Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had repeatedly signaled in public comments and in a letter to Boxer and Inhofe that the Senate should concentrate on the GSA abuses without scapegoating Las Vegas as a destination that encourages excess.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., delivered a similar letter to the panel and gave a speech Wednesday that condemned the GSA but added, “This is not an issue about location.”
Inhofe said he agreed. “We are dealing with corrupt people. What happened in Las Vegas could just as likely have happened in Chicago, New York or someplace else. It’s totally unfair for people to draw a line there.”
With Congress completing its review, at least for now, several bills have been proposed to address problems raised by the GSA scandal.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Wednesday she was forming legislation that would require federal agency heads to sign off on all conferences costing more than $200,000. It also would require agencies to file annual reports to Congress on their off-site meetings.
The bill also would bar agencies from giving bonuses to employees who are under investigation or who have been found to violate rules.
That came in response to the disclosure that Neely was awarded a $9,000 bonus even as his supervisors were aware he was being investigated by the inspector general.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.