It’s on the Back Pages - The Missourian: Opinion

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It’s on the Back Pages

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Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2012 6:32 pm

There is a major scandal unfolding in Washington, D.C., and for the most part it’s buried on the back pages of metro daily newspapers, and those that are national in circulation. It hasn’t been big news on televsion either. The Wall Street Journal has covered it — maybe the best. It had some coverage on television.

The scandal is at an agency that usually is not in the forefront of the federal bureaucracy. It is the General Services Administration (GSA), which is the government’s mangement agency for its property and rental space. An Inspector General report has detailed the abuse of taxpayer money by the agency. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who honed her investigative and auditing skills as Missouri auditor, began investigating the agency in 2010. Now she is sounding the alarm about bonuses given to officials while they were under investigation.

Sen. McCaskill has raised the question of whether the GSA “has sufficiently addressed what appears to be a pervasive culture of rewarding officials for misconduct relating to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.”

Sen. McCaskill is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. She wants the names of officials who received bonuses after it was revealed that members of a GSA planning team for a conference spent more than $100,000 just to plan the event at a Las Vegas resort. For their excellent performance in planning the conference, GSA officials received bonuses ranging from $500 to $1,500. And the regional commissioner for Region 9 received a $9,000 bonus for his performance in 2011. Region 9 was responsible for planning the conference.

Earlier this month, the Inspector General released a report which revealed that the GSA used government purchase cards to pay more than $430,000 on iPods, digital cameras, and gift cards for employees as part of the “Hats Off” employee incentive program, in violation of contracting regulations.

When all of this was revealed, Sen. McCaskill reported that the Obama administration accepted the resignation of the top GSA official, Martha Johnson, and fired Bob Peck, GSA public building service commissioner. The McCaskill subcommittee earlier held a hearing on waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars through GSA contracts.

Sen. McCaskill deserves credit for her zeal in demanding accountability by government agencies. She targeted the awarding of contracts to private firms assisting in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who knows how much fraud and waste is involved? Last year a top official in the U.S. Department of Labor resigned after an Inspector General investigation, requested by Sen. McCaskill, found that the official circumvented rules and regulations to secure government contracts for friends and colleagues.

It may be only the tip of the iceberg in the GSA scandal that has been revealed.

We know that fraud and waste are almost routine in some federal government agencies. The government is so big that it’s nearly impossible to keep tabs on all of the agencies. We need more members of Congress to be concerned about the waste and dishonest practices of officials in the bureaucracy. Some of these officials must believe they are the “untouchables” and what they are doing will never be revealed. They have the attitude that “it’s only taxpayer dollars” and we don’t have to be accountable.

/opinion

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