The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on Monday over a General Services Administration spending scandal that cost several GSA officials their jobs. Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced that several former GSA officials, including former administrator Martha Johnson, have both been summoned to testify. Former Public Buildings Service commissioner Robert Peck is expected to testify on Tuesday.
In the run-up to the hearing, the committee has released internal GSA correspondence regarding the Inspector General’s investigation into the GSA’s conference spending. The email correspondence shows that GSA officials disagreed over how—or whether—employees at the Western Regions Conference responsible for a lavish 2010 convention should be punished.
The records show that last year, Peck, who served as Public Buildings Service commission before he was fired in April, wrote an email referencing the investigation to Jeff Neely, the regional administrator responsible for planning the conference.
“I attended part of the conference and found the general sessions to be creative and professional presentations on important issues that we deal with in the Public Buildings [Service],” Peck wrote. He said that the Las Vegas conference—which cost nearly $835,000 for 300 employees—further “appears to have been an effective means of informing the attendees about PBS programs and policies and of facilitating an exchange of best business practices.”
In the letter, Peck dismissed Neely’s errors in judgment as a “managerial lapse.”
Peck’s letter to Neely drew a stern response from GSA deputy administrator Susan Brita last year. Brita advised Peck that the letter must be written with the media in mind.
“[A]ccording to the IG they didn’t [sic] find any agenda that would support comments about substance and important issues. Furthermore, expenses for a clown suit, bikes, tuxedos, and mind reader don’t really lend themselves to a claim of a substantive conference,” Brita wrote. “I think the letter to Jeff should be crafted with a WAPO mind frame. If this story of GSA (federal workers) spending ‘almost a million dollars’ (and I have no doubt that is how the Post would report the event) at a time of high unemployment, and down economy were to hit the press what would public reaction by, what would congressional reaction be, and how would the agency respond (especially the political leadership).”
In the same email, Brita wrote that Peck’s draft letter of reprimand was inappropriate. “Jeff is a seasoned SES who is expected to display the highest standards of common sense, and prudent financial management,” she wrote. “He did neither. Sorry, but your letter is not even a slap on the wrist.”
Peck could not be reached for comment.
Johnson, the GSA’s former administrator, submitted her resignation to the White House in early April and fired Peck and her top adviser following the revelation of the Inspector General’s report. Among other examples of excessive spending, the report showed eight scouting and planning trips between March 2009 and October 2010 by GSA employees to visit Las Vegas hotels—including a dry-run of the conference for 31 GSA employees at the luxury M Resort.