GSA’s financial mess not limited to Vegas shindig

Report cites ‘dynamics issues’

The dysfunctional culture that cost regional General Services Administration officials their jobs following the disclosure of an “over-the-top” Las Vegas conference extends beyond the Western states region and further back to previous GSA executives in Washington, records indicate.

A recently obtained report finds that “management and interpersonal dynamics issues” had departments within the GSA battling fiercely, with repeated allegations that the chief financial officer’s office was using its role overseeing the agency’s finances to engage in “self-dealing” and hoarding millions of dollars for its own purposes.

In February 2010, then-CFO Kathleen M. Turco told top GSA bosses that the office had $25 million in excess cash, while it actually had $52 million, leaving it $27 million to spend on pet projects, according to a report from the Office of Inspector General.

The investigation could find no “evidence that the [then-GSA Administrator Martha Johnson], recently appointed in February, had given the former CFO instructions, authority or permission to set apart that money.”

But by the time the investigation concluded, Ms. Turco had been promoted to associate administrator for governmentwide policy and a new CFO was in place. Investigators decided to “leave it to the administrator to determine whether any further action in this area is warranted.”

Ms. Johnson resigned in April after the Las Vegas goings-on became public.

Tumult continued under Micah Cheatham, the acting CFO who ascended from his role as the GSA’s budget director to fill the void, and Alison L. Doone, the current executive, according to the Inspector General’s April 2011 report, obtained by The Washington Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The investigation paints a picture of repeated tensions about how to spend government money between the CFO and the comptroller, a financial overseer who serves as liaison between the CFO and the Federal Acquisition Service but reports to the CFO.

Despite “vehement opposition” from other departments, the financial office used its position as gatekeeper to profit off of other departments’ expenditures by keeping credit card reward points accumulated with their purchases.

CFO officials were instrumental in getting Congress to change the law to say that excess GSA funds could be used only for projects undertaken by the CFO. And the CFO's office repeatedly checked for and seized excess cash from other departments while not doing the same internally. Investigators parsing accusations from the comptroller's office and other departments concluded that most of the actions, however disagreeable, were “within the CFO’s authority and discretion.”

In many cases, the result of confrontations and brawling was that some departments that wanted to spend money were not allowed to. In others, departments that turned the magnifying glass to the CFO's office for waste and abuse were thwarted.

When the financial analysis department reviewed the CFO's administration of a major contract and found problems, the CFO’s chief of staff reportedly demanded that the auditing arm “take [the report] back.”

A wayward culture within the GSA catapulted to the public’s attention this year after revelations of an elaborate 2010 conference by the Public Buildings Service, the federal government’s landlord, that lacked a substantive agenda, and videos and emails showed high-ranking executives in embarrassing positions and bragging about taxpayer-funded excess. The conference cost taxpayers $823,000.

In April of this year, the agency responded by taking budget authority from the Public Buildings Service - and giving it the CFO.

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