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Probes into wasteful spending at GSA focus on Hawaii expenses

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    FILE - In this June 3, 2009 file photo, GSA Administrator-designate Martha Johnson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. A report released this week detailing an extravagant conference held by federal employees near Las Vegas in October 2010 has set Nevada abuzz. The internal report by the General Services Administration resulted in the termination of two top deputies and the resignation of Martha Johnson. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg, File)
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WASHINGTON >> The General Services Administration inspector general was told the agency spent as much as $330,000 to move an employee from Denver to Hawaii, an example of millions of dollars wasted in relocation costs.

Another GSA employee said several GSA officials flew to Hawaii for 5-to-7 days in 2011 to attend an hour-long ribbon cutting on space leased by the federal government.

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 latest examples of GSA waste to become public came from a transcript of an interview between an inspector general’s investigator and an employee who handled relocations, and another interview released by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee..

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.

“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.

In the inverview transcript, the employee 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.

“I mean that blew me away when I saw how much it costs to relocate somebody. It’s crazy. It’s astronomical,” said an employee in the interview.

The employee said that perks for those transferring included: house hunting, 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.

Q. In the past two years how much do you think you’ve seen spent.

A. 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 and 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….”

Meanwhile, top officials of the GSA told employees Wednesday they have a duty to report government waste such as the $823,000 spent by the agency on a 2010 conference at a Las Vegas resort.

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 that is in charge of federal buildings and supplies.

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