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Congress / GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS

GSA Employee-Rewards Program Now Also Under Scrutiny

April 5, 2012

The General Service Administration’s troubles may extend beyond last week’s revelations of a lavish employee junket to a Las Vegas luxury spa, as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republicans reported on Thursday that they have information on “an equally dubious employee-rewards program.”

Under a so-called “Hats Off Program,” operated by officials in the GSA’s Pacific Rim Region -- and possibly other regions -- “at least $200,000 worth of taxpayer-funded iPods, gift cards, and other valuable items were handed out to employees for questionable reasons at best,” wrote committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., on Thursday to Brian Miller, the inspector general for the GSA.

 

Denham leads the subcommittee that oversees the GSA’s public building service. He and Mica want Miller and his investigators to turn over to the committee any relevant reports or documents about this rewards program.

The Pacific Rim Region oversees federal property in Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada, as well as territorial areas such as American Samoa and Guam. But in their letter, the two lawmakers suggest other GSA offices may be operating similar programs in which employee awards can be redeemed for taxpayer-funded prizes.

Their letter on Thursday follows last week’s resignation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson after revelations of the lavish 2010 GSA “training” junket to Las Vegas, along with the firing of two senior assistants and forced leaves for other GSA officials pending further review.

GSA employees attending the five-day conference in October 2010 spent $823,000 altogether, with expenditures detailed last week in an internal GSA report, including $75,000 for a team training exercise to assemble bicycles, $7,000 in sushi, and thousands more for such things as a session with a mind reader and expensive in-room parties.

On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., added a new footnote. The committee released a video from an award ceremony at the Las Vegas conference where GSA officials joked with an employee about his award-winning video, which contained references to his never facing inspector general scrutiny. Ironically, a deputy commissioner is seen presenting the award, bestowing "commissioner for a day" status on the employee and joking about the previous night’s lavish "party that was held in the commissioner’s suite."

Denham has already announced that his subcommittee will begin hearings on the matter on April 19.

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