WASHINGTON >> The General Services Administration inspector general was told the agency spent as much as $330,000 to move an employee to Hawaii from Denver, an example of millions of dollars wasted in relocation costs.
The latest example of GSA waste came to light in a transcript of a March 2011 interview, which the Associated Press obtained on Wednesday, between an inspector general’s investigator and an employee who handled relocations.
“I mean that blew me away when I saw how much it costs to relocate somebody. It’s crazy. It’s astronomical,” the employee said in the interview.
She said the person in charge of the expensive relocations was a real estate official known in GSA circles as “The Prince.” The agency is in charge of the federal government’s buildings and supplies.
No one at the Honolulu office would agree to be interviewed, and said questions about the local office would be forwarded today to officials in Washington.
The GSA has been under scrutiny since Inspector General Brian Miller reported earlier this month the agency spent about $823,000 for an October 2010 conference at a Las Vegas resort. The former administrator resigned, two of her top aides were fired and eight employees have been placed on administrative leave.
At the conference, a tongue-in-cheek music video referencing lavish government spending created by a Honolulu-based federal worker won the GSA talent award.
The committee labeled the video by Hank Terlaje, “Winning Video Skit from Taxpayer Funded Luxury Las Vegas GSA Convention.” It shows him singing about what he would do if he were head of the agency. The video is titled “Federal Worker ‘American Idle’” and is set to the tune of “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars.
The video depicts Terlaje sitting in an office cubicle, playing an ukulele and daydreaming about all the spending he would do if he were GSA commissioner and how he would never be subject to an investigation by the inspector general. The daydream ends when a co-worker drops a stack of paperwork on his desk.
“GSA’s culture of lavish spending clearly goes well beyond a single convention. It’s troubling to see the agency tasked with setting the standard for accountability and cost-cutting across the government evidently engaging in such abusive spending,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Issa is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, one of three congressional committees now looking into GSA spending.
The employee said that perks for those transferring included temporary quarters that at times was extended to 90 days, groceries, laundry, shipping a vehicle and household goods, paying the closing costs on a new home and buying the former house if the employee can’t sell it.
“I mean it’s outrageous,” the employee said in the interview.
Question: In the past two years how much do you think you’ve seen spent.
Answer: Oh, millions.
Q: And how many employees are we talking about.
A: I’d say, right now, probably about 15 files on my desk.
The employee said the individual who transferred from Denver to Hawaii only stayed with the agency for a year then quit.
She said her management team “had told me not to tell anyone how much those things cost because people would just be really surprised at what we spent. …”
In another interview, the inspector general was told GSA officials flew to Hawaii and on other taxpayer-funded junkets, sometimes for a week or more just for brief federal building ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
The interview was released by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The GSA employee said several GSA officials flew to Hawaii for five to seven days in 2011 to attend an hour-long ceremony for space leased by the federal government.
The employee said this was not an isolated incident.
“The Las Vegas conference was the tip of the iceberg, and every new example demonstrates the mind-boggling culture of waste and blatant disregard for the taxpayers’ money within GSA,” said the committee chairman, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.
Meanwhile, top officials of the GSA told employees Wednesday they have a duty to report government waste.
In a joint email to the more than 12,000 GSA employees, acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini and Inspector General Miller promised there will be no retaliation against anyone reporting improper conduct and government waste.
The email is part of an aggressive effort by Tangherlini to change the culture in the agency.