GSA meeting planners got bonuses

WASHINGTON — On top of multiple taxpayer-funded trips to the Las Vegas area, GSA meeting planners who spent more than $136,000 to organize the now-infamous 2010 Western Regions Conference may have received bonuses as large as $1,500 apiece.

As many as 50 employees might have received the extra checks for putting together the four-day training meeting, according to an internal General Services Administration personnel document reviewed by investigators preparing for upcoming congressional hearings on the scandal over wasteful spending.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said it appeared members of the planning team “received bonuses ranging from $500 to $1,500 for each individual ‘in recognition’ of their contribution to the conference.” Senate aides said that does not include senior GSA executives who also got bonuses.

Pacific regional commissioner Jeff Neely, who played a major role organizing the conference at the M Resort in Henderson, received about $9,000 for performance in 2011, McCaskill said.

The Senior Executive Service bonus review committee, aware that the GSA inspector general was preparing a report critical of the conference, recommended against giving Neely a bonus.

But McCaskill said the panel was overruled by senior leaders, including Robert Peck, the former GSA Public Buildings Service commissioner who was fired when the audit report on the Las Vegas conference was made public on April 2.

OTHER GSA REPORTS

The inquiries into GSA bonuses were far from the only new disclosures in the scandal enveloping the agency, which leases and manages federal office space. The frenzy was kicked off by the disclosure that the M Resort meeting in October 2010 cost taxpayers $822,751, a sum the inspector general described as “excessive and wasteful.”

According to reports Thursday:

■ Some GSA officials possibly tried to disguise the 2010 conference on expense reports by listing it as taking place in Henderson, a less-provocative, “non-resort” sounding destination than Las Vegas, investigators were told.

■ The same Pacific region office that hosted the Henderson conference also put together a five-day conference for interns at a resort in Palms Springs, Calif., according to an employee interviewed by inspectors. About 120 interns and 20 GSA executives stayed at the Palm Springs Riviera Resort and Spa in May 2010.

■ The GSA spent as much as $330,000 to move an employee from Denver to Hawaii, and that individual stayed with the agency only a year and then quit, according to an auditor’s interview with a worker who handled relocations. Perks for transfers included house hunting, temporary quarters that at times was extended to 90 days, groceries, laundry, shipping a vehicle and household goods, paying the closing costs on a new home, and buying the former house if the employee couldn’t sell it.

■ Several GSA officials flew to Hawaii for five to seven days in 2011 to attend an hourlong ribbon cutting on space leased by the federal government. The employee who told that to investigators said it was not an isolated incident.

■ GSA officials invented fake awards as an excuse to hold taxpayer-funded dinners, including one instance where a “jackass award” was given to an employee, according to an interview transcript obtained by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

“The Las Vegas conference was the tip of the iceberg, and every new example demonstrates the mind-boggling culture of waste and blatant disregard for the taxpayers’ money within GSA,” said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday.

At least three other congressional panels plan inquiries next week, in the first few days after lawmakers return from a two-week recess.

PLANNING CALLED EXCESSIVE

As for the Western Regions Conference, planning for the event appeared to rival the meeting itself for what the inspector general called “excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissible” spending.

GSA employees conducted two “scouting” trips, five off-site planning meetings and a “dry run” at the M Resort a few days before the event, according to auditors.

All told, six of the planning meetings were held at the M Resort. Travel costs totaled $100,405, while “catered food and beverages” at the M Resort totaled more $30,000.

Charges included $57.72-per-person lunches that included a 22 percent tip, and $48.80 breakfasts ($40 plus a 22 percent gratuity), according to the audit report.

The personnel document on bonuses was redacted to black out the names of individuals, congressional officials said, but included employee numbers and how much of a bonus each was given. It was not being made public Thursday.

McCaskill, who heads a federal contracting subcommittee, requested that the GSA flesh out the bonuses by identifying the recipients and how much each received. She broadened her request to demand the names and awards to all GSA officials who have come under scrutiny by the agency’s inspector general over the past four years.

“I have previously raised concerns regarding GSA’s award of bonuses,” she said in a letter to acting administrator Daniel Tangherlini.

She noted at a GSA hearing last month that a regional commissioner had received a bonus despite a bad conduct report. The commissioner got another bonus in 2011, even as she was being investigated again.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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