Lawmakers weigh in on GSA, Secret Service scandals

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is an outspoken critic of both organizations. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is an outspoken critic of both organizations. AP photo

The Secret Service and General Services Administration scandals are two very disparate situations -- one revolves around sex, the other around lavish spending. But it’s no coincidence that both took center stage on Sunday's political talk shows, as both indicate a government lacking oversight, characterized by a culture of autonomy run amok.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., was an outspoken critic of both organizations. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, he’ll have a large say in deciding what role Congress will have in addressing the issues. He characterized both the Secret Service scandal, which has implicated 12 agents in misconduct with prostitutes while preparing for Obama’s recent visit to Colombia, and the GSA's excessive spending as problems with the ethic of the organizations.

"From what we know of what was happening in Cartagena, they were not acting like Secret Service agents, they were acting like a bunch of college students away on spring weekend," he said on Fox News Sunday.

And he wondered if the GSA was similarly flouting regulations.

“They have had a tradition of having each of their regions have a lot of autonomy. That autonomy was clearly abused in Region Nine. I want to make sure it's not happening in other regions, and never happens again in region nine,” Lieberman said.

Though former Secret Service Director Ralph Basham said that the Secret Service misconduct was an "aberration," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, gave voice to widespread murmurs that the events in Cartagena, Colombia, were indicative of a wider problem in the culture of the agency.

"Obviously, nobody believes that something with 11 or 12 people involved couldn't have happened before," Issa said on NBC’s Meet the Press. "The real point is will we have confidence that it will never happen again, particularly for nationals having access to our men and women in the Secret Service."

Regardless of whether the incident was one of many, lawmakers said one such event is enough to hurt the agency’s reputation to a dangerous degree.

"It's not only important that you be excellent, but we also don't want people to even imagine that they can pierce the shield of the Secret Service," said Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., on CNN's State of the Union.

Lawmakers did seem to find a contrast between the GSA scandal and the Secret Service scandal in terms of accountability. Most absolved the Obama administration of responsibility for the Secret Service misconduct, with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., saying he’s “not critical of what the administration has done” to address the issue and multiple lawmakers commending Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan for his handling of the situation.

But numerous lawmakers said the responsibility for GSA overspending does fall on Obama’s shoulders.

“In the case of GSA, the administration clearly bears responsibility, because the head of that agency received an alert from the inspector general way last year that there were problems, and took no action,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' ranking Republican, said on ABC’s This Week. “The president is responsible in that case.”

Lieberman, however, made a distinction between the president being held responsible for the events and being held accountable. He said that while the incidents weren’t Obama’s fault, it’s up to Obama to deal with them properly.

“The buck stops at the president's desk. He's the leader of our government. He now has to be acting with a kind of relentless determination to find out exactly what happened, and to make sure that people who work for him at the Secret Service and GSA and everywhere else in the government don't let anything like this happen again,” he said.

Lieberman didn't say how Obama should do that, although he did say that a suggestion by his colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that the White House launch an internal investigation, was a good one.

Missing from the conversation was a definite path forward. Lawmakers called for further investigations into both scandals, with Lieberman saying the GSA Inspector General should look at all ten GSA regions, not just the one in which the overspending occurred. But with those investigations still underway, the outcome is unclear.

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