GSA Roundup: Budget busters, existence threatened, paid parking

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., says GSA needs to “justify their existence” to Congress. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., says GSA needs to “justify their existence” to Congress. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The General Services Administration won’t be taking any more chances entrusting regional budgets to regional offices. Federal Computer Week reported Wednesday on a new GSA order, released April 15, that gives the agency’s chief financial officer budget control over the Public Buildings Service. A new position, the Office of Public Buildings Service Financial Services, was created as a liaison so that future mind-reader-related expenses will have to clear more hurdles before being approved.

In establishing new safeguards like this, GSA may be doing more than saving face: The agency is attempting to save its very presence in government. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, told Federal News Radio on Thursday that GSA needs to “justify their existence” to Congress. “I am prepared to systematically pull apart GSA,” Denham said, adding all the agency’s functions should be outsourced if executives cannot demonstrate they have a handle on spending.

To that end, GSA is taking steps both big and small: Agency employees in Washington will no longer receive free parking permits, Federal Times reported Wednesday. The new parking policies, whose implementation has been delayed since August 2011, will take effect April 27. Though employees were aware these changes would be taking place long before the current scandal came to light, the parking issue has gained renewed significance since GSA’s inspector general revealed during a hearing Wednesday that PBS regional commissioner Jeffrey Neely’s wife had been using free parking, despite not being a federal employee.

All this unexpected, not-necessarily positive focus on Las Vegas has caused Nevada’s two senators to unite across the aisle on one issue. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., both delivered impassioned defenses of their state’s tourism and conference hub this week, The Washington Post reported. Both emphasized that the location of the GSA conference played no part in the scandal, which was primarily an administrative failure, and that the city’s reputation should not suffer as a result. Heller’s push for Vegas occurred on the Senate floor Wednesday, where the up-for-reelection lawmaker held up a large placard reading “Tourism = Nevada Jobs.” Considering Reid has publicly backed Heller’s election opponent, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., it’s doubtful the two will be agreeing on much else any time soon.

Other lawmakers have set out to right GSA’s wrongs the old-fashioned way: by pushing legislation. Among the many new federal-spending-related bills members of Congress have announced this week they intend to introduce, as reported by Federal Times: Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., seeks to cut federal conference spending by 20 percent from 2010 levels as well as require agencies to report their conference activities and spending four times a year. Coburn plans to attach the new measure to a pending postal reform bill. This is in addition to new intended legislation from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., that calls for conference spending caps and annual reports.

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