Over the course of nine years as inspector general at the General Services Administration, Brian D. Miller rooted out profligacy, corruption, and plain stupidity across the agency that provides property-management, acquisition, and technology services for the federal government.
The most notorious example of officials behaving badly was a conference at Las Vegas’s M Resort Spa Casino that cost taxpayers $822,751 and led to the resignation of GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson. The 2010 Western Regions Conference was so “over the top,” in the words of one of the organizers, that reporters made a sport of cataloguing unnecessary expenditures, from a mind reader to commemorative coins to a $31,208 reception.
The five-day blowout was reconstructed in a 16-page report compiled by Miller in the wake of the scandal. “We worked hard on making it fair, readable, and short,” Miller said of the document, which concluded that the planning and execution of the conference was “incompatible with [the agency’s] obligation to be a responsible steward of the public’s money.”
Earlier this month, Miller announced that he was stepping down as GSA inspector general to become a managing director at Navigant, an expert-services firm. He leaves GSA in “top condition,” Miller said, having added forensic-auditing and criminal-intelligence units to the Office of Inspector General.
Miller is philosophical about the bad apples in every large organization. “If people intentionally try to circumvent the system, they’re going to find a way,” he said. “GSA has 12,000 employees, and in any town of 12,000, you’re going to find a jail.”¦ People intentionally do bad things.”
Raised near Philadelphia, Miller holds a bachelor’s degree from Temple University and a law degree from the University of Texas. Before being confirmed by the Senate as GSA inspector general in July 2005, he served for 15 years in the Justice Department, first in the Office of Legal Policy and later as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, where he prosecuted terrorists, fraudsters, kingpins, and assorted miscreants.
When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was sued in the Eastern District of New York for events stemming from 9/11, Miller was part of a team handpicked by Ashcroft to represent him personally.
During Miller’s tenure at GSA, the agency collected more than $1 billion in civil settlements from companies accused of violating the False Claims Act. Apart from the Las Vegas conference scandal, Miller pursued wayward actors at every level, from a deputy regional commissioner who used a government-issued credit card to stay at luxury hotels, to a former chief of staff who was sentenced to a year in prison in connection with the Jack Abramoff scandal.
Miller also partnered with GSA’s Public Buildings Service to recover hundreds of lost or stolen works of art from the New Deal era. Copies of several of the recovered works are on display in the inspector general’s conference room.
In a letter to President Obama notifying him of his decision to step down, Miller quoted a colleague who remarked that serving as inspector general was like “straddling a barbed wire fence.”
“It’s a lonely life,” Miller said. “You make even fewer friends as an inspector general than as a federal prosecutor. Nobody likes to be audited; nobody likes to be investigated.
“We review the facts and call it like we see it. Sometimes that will be well-received by a portion of Congress, and sometimes it won’t.”¦ There are a lot of different political agendas going on.”