The overspending by the federal government’s General Services Administration has likely spread to other agencies, says Republican Rep. Jeff Denham who is leading an investigation into the burgeoning scandal.
“GSA sets the spending for all the other agencies,” Denham said in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV.
“They’re setting the standards.We are hopeful that we don’t find the same thing in other agencies but we are going to continue to look,” he vowed.
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“We have to restore the public’s trust and in this case the public is right in not trusting government. The government did some things that it should be embarrassed of.”
The scandal has already cost GSA administrator Martha Johnson and the Commissioner of Building Services Robert Peck their jobs after inspector general Brian Miller issued a damning report into the agency’s spending. Around a dozen other officers in the agency are on administrative leave.
Miller discovered that one training conference held in Las Vegas had cost the taxpayer $830,000, even though it was only attended by 300 people. Clowns, commemorative coins, and even a mind reader were billed to the taxpayer.
Denham, a freshman congressman from California who chairs the transportation subcommittee that is investigating the scandal, said the Vegas conference, organized by the agency’s San Francisco-based Pacific Rim bureau is not the only example of wanton waste within the agency. He said there was a “pattern” of at least nine trips to places including Palm Springs, Napa, and New Orleans.
“The western region was certainly the worst of all the regions,” he said. “But we’re investigating all regions within GSA and trying to see how much of this culture goes outside of one agency and leads to many other agencies that are doing these conferences and lavish spending.”
Denham said he cannot understand why so many people, including Jeffrey Neely, the acting head of the Pacific Rim bureau are still on leave when they should have been fired. “They are basically going to continue to pad their pensions at the expense of taxpayers when they broke the law,” he said.
Denham said it is clear that the White House knew about the overspending around 18 months ago, but still let it continue. He said his committee is now trying to find if there was a cover-up and how deep inside the administration, knowledge of the scandal reached.
“I don’t know that we have the evidence to say criminal charges should be launched against anybody within the administration but certainly the administration knew about it and they did nothing for the last year and a half,” he said.
“They have actually fired some people and put a number of people on administrative leave over the last two weeks, but that wasn’t until we started putting these hearings forward and really pressing them. The White House still has to answer a number of questions on why they allowed this to go on for the last year and a half.”
Denham said he is convinced criminal charges should follow and the Department of Justice has been alerted to his committee’s findings and to Miller’s report.
“We believe that criminal charges should be launched. The investigation should certainly move forward for several individuals within GSA,” he said. “The email trail that we have seen, the 1,100-page report, certainly shows criminal activity and we are going to continue to pursue it from a criminal standpoint.
“We are going to continue to dig to see how deep this goes,” he said. “Ultimately you can’t stop the corruption until we have transparency and until this investigation fully plays out.”
And Denham says steps are being taken to ensure that such a thing can never happen again, including legislation that would force the GSA budget to go before elected members.
“Congress is able to look at most budgets through the budget process but GSA is operated autonomously and we’re going to bring them back into the fold to make sure that there is not only full accountability but there is actually transparency for the American public.”
And he said the time may have come to disband the agency altogether. “One of their biggest functions is managing all of our federal properties,” he pointed out. “Of the 14,000 properties that they have declared are vacant or under-utilized, they have sold 82 over the last decade.
“Certainly private industry would do much better, local realtors would do much better, and we are asking to see what is their justification to exist as an agency.”
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