- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More than a month after he was put on leave when a video surfaced showing him joking about the lavish spending at a taxpayer-funded General Services Administration (GSA) $823,000 conference in Las Vegas, a top official at the agency has quietly returned to his job.

David Foley, deputy commissioner of the GSA’s Public Buildings Service, was one of the speakers at the convention that has come under sharp congressional scrutiny after an audit uncovered massive waste at the gathering, including a talent show, open bar and red carpet party.

Introduced before his speech at the conference as a “platinum big leaguer,” Mr. Foley joked at one point with a colleague, “The hotel would like to talk to you about paying for the party that was held in the commissioner’s suite last night.”

Agency sources confirmed Tuesday that Mr. Foley had returned to the GSA after being out on administrative leave. Officials made no public announcement about Mr. Foley’s return. He had been placed on leave in April, the same month he apologized in an appearance before Congress for remarks he made in Las Vegas.

“I attempted to make a joke in the context of a talent celebration that I perceived as being similar to a comedic roast,” Mr. Foley told a House committee investigating the GSA gathering.

He also said he wasn’t directly involved in planning for the conference or in any financial or contracting irregularities that surfaced after the GSA’s inspector general issued a report on the gathering this year.

Still, Mr. Foley and other GSA executives and employees from Washington who attended the agency’s Western Regions Conference would have been hard-pressed to miss clear signs of what one organizer boasted to be “over the top” spending.

The conference, documented in hours of video and hundreds of photos, revealed federal workers sipping martinis, wine and beer, putting on magic and talent shows, playing games and participating in team building exercises near the pool of a posh Las Vegas resort.

Among the attendees was Robert Peck, the former public buildings commissioner forced out in the wake of the conference scandal. Former GSA Commissioner Martha Johnson did not attend, but she also resigned.

It’s unclear whether high-ranking officials from Washington faced any fallout for their participation.

Anthony Costa, who as chief people officer oversees human resources for the GSA, participated in a spoof at the conference where he joked that he was so busy that he needed a clone. As documented in a video, another GSA employee dressed up as Mr. Costa broke out into song before the real Mr. Costa walked out onto the Las Vegas stage to address the audience.

The Washington Times posted the video online last week, along with more than two dozen other videos and hundreds of pictures and documents from the conference - all obtained through an open records request.
Another attendee in Las Vegas was Larry Melton, an assistant commissioner at the GSA also based in Washington.

While all three executives attended and participated in spoof videos, one difference between Mr. Foley and Mr. Costa and Mr. Melton is that Mr. Foley was invited to testify before Congress. And the decision by the GSA to put Mr. Foley on leave was announced around the same time of his congressional testimony.

“My remarks were wrong and I take full responsibility for what I said,” Mr. Foley said during his appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “I understand the outrage about this conference, my comments and how they’ve inflames all of the issues surrounding this event.”

Mr. Foley was one of five GSA executives with ties to the Las Vegas conferences who received bonuses of about $10,000, according to a report last week by WUSA-9.

As the deputy public buildings commissioner, Mr. Foley serves as the agency’s chief operating officer and helps oversee the federal government’s vast real estate holdings.

While Mr. Foley returns to the agency, the public face of the conference scandal, Jeffrey Neely, a GSA regional commissioner, left last week after citing his Fifth Amendment right in refusing to testify before Congress last month.

GSA spokesman Adam Elkington said last week Mr. Neely, who is no longer employed by the agency, already had been placed on leave because of his involvement with the conference. He also said the agency was completing its review of the conference and is “pursuing all available avenues for disciplinary action against those responsible.”

Even as Congress investigates the conference, a law enforcement probe is also underway.

The GSA’s inspector general in a letter to The Times declined to release records on the conference in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, citing an exemption that permits officials to keep records secret if the release could interfere with “ongoing law enforcement proceedings.”

Officials said in the letter they were withholding more than 800,000 documents.

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