- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2012

The watchdog agency for the General Services Administration is declining to release hundreds of thousands of documents about travel fraud investigations, saying the disclosure could interfere with ongoing law enforcement proceedings.

The Washington Times had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking copies of final reports for all travel fraud probes since 2007, as well as information about a highly publicized audit of lavish spending for a GSA conference in Las Vegas.

In a letter explaining the decision to withhold many of the records, an attorney for the Office of the Inspector General for the GSA noted that “over [800,000] documents are being withheld.” The letter said releasing the records could “interfere with ongoing enforcement proceedings.”

Since the conference audit was already released, the decision to keep the records from public view provides further evidence that criminal charges could come next in the 2010 GSA conference scandal.

Inspector General Brian Miller already has recommended a criminal probe as accusations of bribery and kickbacks emerged following his report on the conference. And the GSA official who planned the conference, Jeffrey Neely, invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination at a congressional hearing last month.

Issued last month, the inspector general’s report on the more than $800,000 Western Region Conference sparked bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill and the ouster of GSA’s top official, Martha Johnson.

The report found the GSA violated a host of contracting rules and spent nearly $150,000 on buffets, in-room parties, a networking reception and a cocktail-and-awards dinner. The conference also featured a talent show.

The networking reception included a cash bar, a pasta station and an “American Artisanal Cheese Display,” while another event featured a commemorative-coin giveaway rewarding participants for their work on projects under the federal economic stimulus act.

Other funds were spent on tuxedos worn by three employees who were masters of ceremonies at the awards dinner.

The inspector general's office did release other records to The Times that did not relate to the conference involving past instances of travel fraud.

In one report, documents describe how a former deputy under Mr. Neely had made numerous unauthorized charges on his government credit card in 2009. The deputy, Daniel B. Voll, retired in January 2010 while under investigation and pleaded guilty to federal charges in California involving $61,000 in credit card charges.

Another now-closed investigation began after the inspector general's office received an allegation that a GSA official went to a conference in Branson, Mo., but did not attend any of the sessions.

Yet another case described a 2007 probe that found at least two questionable trips involving a GSA office in Atlanta.

The GSA’s acting administrator, Dan Tangherlini, who previously worked as city administrator in the D.C. government, has pledged reforms to cut wasteful travel spending. A spokeswoman for the GSA inspector general declined to comment on the investigation Thursday.