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House members demand answers over taxpayer-funded parties

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2012

Extracting shaken apologies from officials involved in a recent scandal where federal workers partied in Las Vegas on taxpayer dollars, House lawmakers grilled them Monday on why they let the misspending go on for months while awarding a hefty bonus to the rendezvous' organizer.

"I personally apologize to the American people — as the head of the agency I am responsible," said Martha Johnson, former head of the General Services Administration who resigned when the agency's spending spree surfaced nearly two weeks ago. "I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my appointment."

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa asked Ms. Johnson to explain why she decided to grant a $9,000 performance bonus to Jeffrey Neely last year even though she knew he was being investigated for misusing agency funding and breaking federal bidding rules while planning the event.

"You personally were responsible for Mr. Neely's bonus, but you were not personally responsible to look at the report," Mr. Issa said.

Ms. Johnson said because the report from the inspector general was preliminary, she was waiting for a final determination to be made.

"I had receive the communication from the inspector general with non-conclusive results," Ms. Johnson said. "I wanted the full picture."

Mr. Neely declined to answer any questions, invoking his fifth amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Digging into a recent report by the GSA's inspector general, lawmakers scheduled a series of hearings this week over evidence that the agency spent $823,000 at a four-star spa and casino get-away for 300 employees in 2010.

Over the four-day conference, officials hosted parties in their hotel rooms with agency funds, hired a mind-reader, gave attendees souvenirs costing thousands of dollars, and paid $75,000 for a team-building exercise where employees built bikes.

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