WASHINGTON -- Republicans, who have seized upon embarrassing reports that the federal General Services Administration blew $823,000 on a Las Vegas splurge, called on Monday for a hearing into the matter, to be held the day that Congress returns from its spring break.
In announcing the April 16 session, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said it was inviting Brian Miller, the GSA inspector general who revealed the misuse of taxpayer funds; Martha Johnson, the GSA administrator who quit after punishing those deemed responsible; GSA Chief of Staff Michael Robertson; David Foley, deputy commissioner of the GSA's Public Buildings Service who has been placed on administrative leave in connection with the Vegas events; and Jeff Neely, commissioner of the GSA's Region 9 who was seen in some of the eyebrow-raising videos.
The Huffington Post first reported on nearly an hour's worth of compromising footage of the events in Vegas. Among the more shame-inducing expenditures were a $95-a-person dinner at the M Resort Spa, a $75,000 bike-building training exercise, and a $3,200 mind reader.
Democrats have pointed out that the soaring costs of GSA conferences started during the Bush administration and that the Obama administration's inspector general is responsible for bringing the matter to light after a yearlong investigation.
Issa's committee is acknowledging that the problem goes back some years. "The Oversight Committee certainly views wasteful spending as a problem that transcends administrations and, by working to expose it, can help direct Congress toward necessary cuts to spending on the bureaucracy," said Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins.
Committee Democrats raised no objections to looking into the matter. "This was a gross abuse of taxpayer funds, and the inspector general should be commended for conducting this investigation. Additional disciplinary action may be warranted, and the agency must take appropriate steps to ensure that this kind of behavior never happens again," said the Oversight Committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.).
But one of the Obama administration's Democratic allies suggested that Issa was just trying to take advantage of misdeeds he had nothing to do with uncovering.
"House Republicans started this Congress by claiming the Obama administration was one of the most corrupt in history, yet to date they have produced no evidence of wrongdoing," the Democrat sniped. "Now that some waste has been exposed -– by the administration’s own independent investigators –- they are clamoring to take credit by injecting themselves into the story. Even conservatives are wondering why congressional Oversight didn’t catch this. Maybe they'll now realize proper oversight means serious investigation, not watching themselves on television."
The source was referring to a recent broadcast on Fox News in which host Greta Van Susteren wondered, "I think to myself: Where were they before, before this was spent? Where were they in terms of providing oversight for this or for any other thing?"
Regardless, charges of spending on mind readers and fancy meals in a time of austerity likely will not go over well.
The Oversight Committee also released a clip Monday that it complained had not come out in the material obtained by HuffPost, including an administrator apparently admitting one of less remarkable videos was made on government time.
Three other congressional committees have also announced hearings on the GSA debacle, although Issa's committee will go first.
The GSA released this statement about the latest hearing: "As we've said, the actions of the Western Regions Conference are not consistent with how GSA conducts business. We were appalled by the missteps highlighted in the IG's report, have taken disciplinary action against those responsible, accepted all of the IG's recommendations and continue to take additional steps to ensure this never happens again. We welcome responsible oversight and look forward to working with the committees reviewing this matter. Our agency remains committed to eliminating excessive Federal spending and promoting government efficiency."
Watch the GSA videos below.
This story has been updated with comment from the General Services Administration.
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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