New GSA chief apologizes

The GSA’s new leader said Tuesday he is suspending a controversial employee rewards program and taking other steps to clean up the agency sullied by reports of wasteful spending.

Dan Tangherlini was appointed acting head of the General Services Administration last week to clean up the mess from the 2010 Las Vegas conference that cost taxpayers $823,000 and left a black mark on the sizable yet little known federal property and procurement agency.

On Tuesday, Tangherlini released a video to apologize for the Vegas junket and to outline "actions we are taking to prevent this kind of abuse from ever happening again."

"What took place was completely unacceptable," he said. "There were violations of travel rules, acquisition rules and of good conduct. Just as importantly, those responsible violated rules of common sense, the spirit of public service and the trust that taxpayers had placed in all of us."

Tangherlini said he has ordered a "top down review" of agency spending. As part of that, he said he has suspended the "Hats Off" employee recognition program in the agency’s Pacific Rim region that includes Nevada, California, Arizona, Hawaii and the Pacific territories.

Initially, the rewards program distributed mouse pads and backpacks to recognized workers but eventually came to hand out iPod Nanos and portable DVD players.

An investigation reported in the past few days found abuses of agency credit cards among "significant control weaknesses" in the program.

Tangherlini’s first order of business, which he outlined last week in a memo to employees, was to review every planned GSA conference and off-site meeting for their business purposes, and cancel those that served primarily GSA staff.

Among the cancellations was a two-day small business outreach conference that had been scheduled for September at the M Resort in Las Vegas — the site of the now infamous Western Regions Conference over four days in October 2010.

Tangherlini said the actions "are a signal of our commitment to our service, our duty and our nation, and not to conferences, awards or parties."

Tangherlini was an assistant secretary for management, chief financial officer and chief performance officer at the Treasury Department before being assigned to GSA to replace Martha Johnson, who resigned on April 2 upon release of the agency’s inspector general report on the Las Vegas conference.

Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, he was city administrator and deputy mayor of Washington DC.

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