- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — General Services Administration witnesses came under sharp criticism from Congress for a second day on Tuesday as lawmakers expressed outrage over junkets, bonuses and parties paid for by taxpayers.

Questioning ranged beyond the $823,000 paid for a Las Vegas conference in October 2010, to a culture of the nation’s government real estate agency playing fast and loose with taxpayer money.

Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee asked about trips to the South Pacific, to the Napa Valley wine country and to Las Vegas to plan for the October conference.

GSA officials landed special deals with resorts that got them suites, where parties were held on the taxpayers’ dime. There were missing electronic devices such as iPads purchased for prize ceremonies.


Inspector General Brian Miller, whose report on the Las Vegas conference touched off congressional investigations, almost seemed overwhelmed by the scope of wrongdoing.

“Every time we turned over a stone, we found 50 more with all kinds of things crawling out,” Mr. Miller said.

Rep. Jeff Denham, California Republican, who chaired the Transportation subcommittee hearing, summed up his frustration and that of others by telling GSA witnesses the agency suffered from “this culture of fraud, waste, corruption” and possibly cover-ups and inside deals with vendors.

“This certainly is not only a dark day for GSA but a dark day for the U.S. government. We wonder why there is so much distrust in government,” he said.

The host of the Las Vegas conference, Jeffrey Neely, invoked his right to remain silent at a hearing Monday and did not appear Tuesday in response to an invitation. His name tag was at the witness table for a time and then was removed.

Mr. Miller referred Mr. Neely’s case to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, among others. The internal watchdog said he’s investigating bribery and kickbacks and already has recommended criminal charges be filed.

Mr. Miller said 115 electronic devices purchased for GSA prize ceremonies were missing, and one was traced to a daughter of Mr. Neely‘s.

Other questions focused on why officials needed nine so-called planning trips for the Las Vegas conference.

“In my opinion, the pre-planning trips were not justified,” Mr. Miller said.

Other trips were taken, many by Mr. Neely and his wife, including a nine-day trip to Hawaii.

A fired official testified he didn’t know taxpayers would be billed $1,960 for a party in his luxury suite at a Las Vegas resort.

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