GSA employee rewards program now also under scrutiny

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Carolyn Kaster/AP

The General Service Administration’s troubles may extend beyond last week’s revelations of a lavish employee junket to a Las Vegas luxury spa, as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republicans reported Thursday information of “an equally dubious employee-rewards program.”

Under a so-called “Hats Off Program,” operated by officials in the GSA’s Pacific Rim Region – and possibly other regions – “at least $200,000 worth of taxpayer funded iPods, gift cards and other valuable items were handed out to employees for questionable reasons at best,” wrote committee Chairman John Mica , R-Fla., and Rep. Jeff Denham , R-Calif., Thursday to Brian Miller, the inspector general for the GSA.

Denham leads the subcommittee over the GSA’s public building service. He and Mica want Miller and his investigators to turn over to the committee any relevant reports or documents about this rewards program.

The Pacific Rim Region oversees federal property in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada, as well as territorial areas such as American Samoa and Guam. But in their letter, the two lawmakers suggest other GSA offices may be operating similar programs in which employee awards can be redeemed for taxpayer-funded prizes.

Their letter Thursday follows last week’s resignation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson after revelations of the lavish 2010 GSA “training” junket to Las Vegas, along with the firing of two senior assistants, and the forced leaves for other GSA officials pending further review.

GSA employees attending the five-day conference in October 2010 spent $823,000, altogether, with expenditures detailed last week in an internal GSA report, including $75,000 for a team training exercise to assemble bicycles, $7,000 in sushi, and thousands more for such things as a session with a mind reader, and expensive in-room parties.

On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa , R-Calif., added a new footnote. The committee released a video of an award ceremony held at the Las Vega conference during which GSA officials even joked with an employee who submitted a winning video about his mocking mention in the video of never being under inspector general scrutiny. Ironically, a deputy commissioner is also seen presenting the award, bestowing a sort of "commissioner for a day" status on the employee, and joking about the previous night’s lavish “party that was held in the commissioner’s suite.”

Denham has already announced his subcommittee will begin hearings on the matter on April 19.

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