In the face of intense media scrutiny, the General Services Administration (GAO) faces Congressional hearings into its"Hats Off" Program that provided $200,000 worth of taxpayer funds for iPods, electronics and gift cards on top of the GAO spending $800,000 on a training conference in Las Vegas.
Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, have scheduled hearings for April 19.
“Over the course of the past few days, some of the outrageous spending habits of the GSA have surfaced, and it is unbelievable,” said Chairman Mica. “First, it was reported that the agency spent $800,000 on a lavish training conference in Las Vegas, and yesterday we learned of an equally over the top employee award program that handed out $200,000 worth of taxpayer funded iPods, electronics, and gift cards for questionable reasons at best."
“All of this taxpayer money is being wasted and GSA is sitting on our assets with thousands of empty and underutilized federal buildings across the country, costing Americans $1.7 billion each year,” Mica said.
In a joint letter to the GAO Inspector General (IG) the representatives requested internal reports and information on the previously undisclosed “Hats Off Program.” The program offered GSA employees award points for dubious reasons and redeemed them for taxpayer funded electronics and gift cards, according to Denham.
Denham added, "The arrogance of giving away a grab bag of free stuff to its employees instead of effectively managing our federal properties is a disgrace. There must be serious consequences for this type of blatant waste of taxpayer dollars, and the Committee intends to hold those responsible fully accountable." The Subcommittee that Denham chairs scheduled a hearing on April 19 to further examine the spending habits of the GSA. Mica and Denham have also requested additional information pertaining to an internal GSA website that included video of the $800,000 Las Vegas junket.
The U.S. Travel Association urged lawmakers "to carry out a measured and appropriate response to the findings of the report" fearing a backlash against conference and meeting travel.
“Unfortunately, a single instance of irresponsible decision making has the potential to cast a negative light on the millions of men and women who work every day to make America’s meetings, conventions and events industry the best in the world. It is important to remember that this particular event was the result of a failure to follow federal travel regulations that were already in place to protect the misuse of taxpayer funds,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
“The findings of the IG report clearly detail instances of inappropriate spending and poor decision making on the part of federal employees,” said Dow. “At a time when Washington is laser-focused on creating jobs and curbing wasteful spending, we hope policymakers will remember that responsible travel can help accomplish these goals."
"We know through repeated studies that travel for face-to-face meetings increases worker productivity in the private and public sectors. We also know that meetings, conferences and events are critical to our economy and support 845,000 U.S. jobs. We hope Congress and the Administration will consider these facts when deciding how to appropriately respond to the event from October 2010,” Dow said.