GSA acquisitions chief goes on medical leave

Steven Kempf Steven Kempf GSA

Just days before a House hearing scheduled to examine overspending at a 2010 conference he helped run, Steven Kempf, commissioner of the General Services Administration’s contracting division, announced he is taking a 60-day medical leave as of Monday.

In an email Friday to his staff at the Federal Acquisitions Service, Kempf wrote: “I truly do not want to be leaving you at this important time. However, this is necessary if I am going to continue serving our country to the best of my ability in the future.” He recalled that he began his career at FAS as a GS-9 intern “and never left, and representing you and the amazing work you do each day is a privilege.”

He announced that his position would be filled on an acting basis by Mary Davie, assistant commissioner of the FAS Office of Integrated Technology Services. A GSA spokesman confirmed that Kempf will not appear at a hearing set for Wednesday at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where the schedule calls for testimony by acting GSA chief Dan Tangherlini “or his designee.”

The November 2010 Organizational Performance Awards event at two hotels in Arlington, Va., assembled 1,000 GSA employees (and another 2,600 via webcast) and featured a reception with a violinist and guitarist, as well as gifts of time-and-temperature picture frames and drumsticks for a team-building exercise. According to GSA inspector general, the estimated total cost of the conference was $268,732. Kempf had been working to modernize GSA’s schedules and remove outdated contractors from the eligibility lists.

In his email, Kempf said he wanted to “clarify” to the staff that he will provide testimony for Congress and share it with staff “when it is finalized.” He added, “as you know, acting Administrator Tangherlini is working to ensure that GSA learns from the past and lives up to the standards our customers, and especially taxpayers, expect of us. This is why he asked the inspector general to look at the FAS 2010 Organizational Performance event.

“I know these are difficult times but because of you, our warfighters have the supplies they need to protect U.S. interests; agencies have cutting-edge cybersecurity capabilities; and our acquisition colleagues have the tools, services and training they need to do their jobs better and more efficiently.”

Meanwhile, the private National Conference Center on Monday took out an ad in The Washington Post saying its efforts to challenge new policies and legislation to impose restrictions on agency travel are paying off. The group objected to the “shortsighted government reaction to GSA overspending in Las Vegas.” The ad continued: “Like any well-run organization, government needs training that promotes leadership development, allowing for sharing of best practices for long-term success.”

The conference center promotes training at its Leesburg, Va., center as “free of such distractions as gold and gaming,” at a price based on the GSA schedules. It encouraged agencies to “be forward-thinking and stand up for their training needs.”

Similarly, the Washington-based nonprofit American Society of Association Executives continues its opposition to legislation to curb agency travel. In a recent statement, it said it “fully supports the intent of Congress to induce greater transparency and accountability in government spending.”

It added, however, that while recent amendments to bills affecting the U.S. Postal Service and agency data transparency “are designed to limit spending on government-sponsored conferences and travel expenses for federal employees, the actual language would have a chilling effect on government employees’ participation in nongovernmental meetings and conferences as well.”

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