Rep. John Mica says the Las Vegas follies by federal employees are "just the tip of the iceberg" and vows to reform or replace the General Services Administration.
"It's not just the millions of dollars of waste and abuse at these junkets, but the billions of dollars in waste," said Mica, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Orlando Republican called the GSA, the government's primary land agency, "out of control."
A House report, "Sitting on Our Assets," documented hundreds of cases of waste and neglect at GSA properties.
For one, Mica noted how the Washington, D.C., postal annex, two blocks from the White House, sat vacant for 14 years while racking up $6 million in annual expenses -- until Mica helped to engineer a purchase byDonald Trump's hotel group through competitive bids.
"[GSA] appallingly wastes billions of the taxpayers hard-earned money through the habitual mismanagement of unused and underutilized federal property," Mica said Tuesday at a hearing conducted by the Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee.
Turning to GSA's $840,000 Las Vegas junket in April 2010, Mica said the agency's "wasteful spending of millions on junkets, conferences, shady employee award programs and bogus award ceremonies is just the tip of the iceberg."
We learned today that GSAs culture of corruption and waste goes a lot farther and a lot deeper than just the Las Vegas conference," he said after the subcommittee hearing chaired by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.
In addition to the Vegas trip, Mica's committee detailed how GSA interns partied at a lavish Palm Springs resort while another contingent jetted off on a five-day junket to Hawaii for a one-hour ribbon-cutting.
The agency's inspector general's office continues to investigate a 17-day excursion to the South Pacific, additional trips to Hawaii and a junket to Napa Valley last month.(Click for timeline here.)
We smelled a rat last year, which is why the committee requested information from the GSA about the tripling of the Public Buildings Service commissioners office administrative costs, Mica said. The agency continues to stonewall the committees request.
Adding to the growing outrage, Mica said the White House "knew about the Vegas junket back in June."
Mica said he was "saddened" when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., attempted to defuse the explosive Vegas shenanigans by suggesting that "Mica needs to get a life."
Denham said the GSA and its enablers in Congress need to start paying attention and stop sweeping obvious problems under the rug.
Theres clear indication that GSA, and the Western Region especially, have been abusing taxpayer dollars for years as their own personal slush fund to pay for lavish parties and exotic vacations.
This wasteful trend at GSA is too likely to continue," Denham added. "The agency plans to go ahead with building a $400 million project in Los Angeles, for a courthouse we dont need for judges we dont have.
Members of the subcommittee speculated that dismantling the GSA may be an option -- one that Mica encouraged.
"How many of you would trust the GSA to manage your property?" he asked his colleagues and the audience in the House committee room.
Mica said that if the agency -- which his committee estimates has "thousands of underutilized and vacant assets costing $1.7 billion in annual operation costs" -- is incapable of reform, he is open to replacing it outright.
Dan Tangherlini, the GSA's acting administrator, called the junkets "completely unacceptable" and said he was "shocked by these indefensible acts."
Tangherlini, who succeeded administrator Martha Johnson, who resigned amid the storm of controversy, pledged "an agency-wide review of all conferences and events."
Announcing that he had suspended the agency's "Hats Off" program, which awarded employees with hundreds of thousands of dollars in iPods and gift cards as part of the notorious junkets, Tangherlini vowed to "identify ways to be more efficient."
But on Monday, Jeff Neely, the GSA's western regional commissioner, repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer questions at another hearing headed by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.