- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jeffrey Neely, the central figure in a lavish taxpayer-funded Las Vegas convention that saw magic acts and federal workers sipping martinis on a red carpet, has left the General Services Administration (GSA).

The departure comes as scrutiny on the 2010 conference intensifies and weeks after Mr. Neely, a GSA regional commissioner, refused to testify before Congress, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The GSA’s Office of Inspector General uncovered massive waste and has declined to release its investigatory files on the conference in response to an open-records request, citing an ongoing law enforcement probe.

Mr. Neely told colleagues at the GSA’s so-called Western Regional Conference that the gathering was “over the top,” and he added that he and other convention goers were intent on having fun. Mr. Neely’s wife, too, was seen soaking up the lavish atmosphere.

While most of the dozens of employees who attended were from western offices at the GSA, The Washington Times reported this week that more than a dozen officials from GSA’s Washington headquarters also attended, including top-ranking officials, such as Anthony E. Costa, the agency’s chief people officer.

But it’s Mr. Neely who has long been the public face of the convention, especially after photos surfaced showing him sipping wine while in a hot tub.

GSA is in the process of completing its review of activities associated with the Western Regions Conference and pursuing all available avenues for appropriate disciplinary action against those responsible,”GSA spokesman Adam Elkington said in a statement to The Washington Times.

“Jeff Neely was placed on administrative leave based on his involvement with the WRC. As of today, he’s no longer employed with GSA.”

Despite Mr. Neely’s departure, scrutiny of GSA’s conference spending isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon.

Two prominent Washington officials, Robert A. Peck, head of GSA’s public buildings service, and Stephen R. Leeds, who was a top adviser to former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, were forced out of the agency. Mrs. Johnson also resigned in the wake of the scandal.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating the GSA conference, told The Times this week he was troubled by the attendance of so many senior officials from Washington at the Las Vegas event.

Separately, evidence that is surfacing raises questions about whether other conferences included extravagant expenditures. In correspondence obtained by The Washington Times, several GSA workers traded emails about the Las Vegas conference and suggested the event wasn’t isolated.

“Yes, the IG is looking at quite a few folks with respect to the [Western Regions Conference],” one employee wrote in a March 21 email. “You spend almost $1 million and expect no one to say anything? I have to laugh when I read articles in the newspapers about gov’t agencies having conferences and paying $16 for a muffin.

“That ain’t nothing compared to what this agency spends. I could definitely give the news folks something to talk or write about.”

This week, The Washington Times released hours of video from the convention that were disclosed by the GSA in response to an open-records request. Several of the videos showed high-ranking Washington officials at the Las Vegas convention, including Jon A. Jordan, deputy commissioner for the GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, and Bill Guerin, assistant commissioner in the GSA’s public buildings service.

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