Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on contracting oversight, is now broadening her probe to include bonuses given to all federal employees. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)
Lawmakers are raising new concerns over excessive spending at the General Services Administration on employee bonuses and travel.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Monday that data she obtained from GSA indicates that the agency gave $1.1 million in bonuses to 84 employees since 2008 while they were under investigation by GSA's inspector general.
"It doesn't pass the smell test to be awarding huge bonuses in taxpayer dollars to officials who are being investigated, or have already been found responsible, for fraud and waste of those very taxpayer dollars," McCaskill said in a statement released Monday. She is chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on contracting oversight. The 84 employees received an average of eight bonus awards each, she said.
The report comes in the wake of an April 2 GSA inspector general's report on wasteful spending at the $823,000 Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas in 2010. That report led to the ouster of GSA's top leadership, numerous hearings in Congress, and a top-to-bottom review of the agency by GSA's new acting administrator, Dan Tangherlini.
McCaskill said the number of questionable employee bonuses is likely to grow, because information related to the Western Regions Conference and other current investigations was not available. She said she had ordered GSA to provide a list of bonuses awarded to all employees who were mentioned or who were subsequently removed or placed on leave in connection to IG reports.
GSA spokesman Adam Elkington said the agency is investigating employee bonuses as part of its top-to-bottom review. "This comprehensive review of our agency operations includes all bonus payouts in recent years — especially for those individuals under investigation by GSA's inspector general," he said.
And late last week, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., took GSA to task for paying $750,000 in travel reimbursements over a nine-month period to 95 employees who work "virtually" — not in the office, but off site full-time.
In a June 1 letter to Tangherlini, Issa requested all documents relating to the cost and effectiveness of virtual employees and all travel vouchers and receipts for reimbursements for virtual employees over the last three years.
"It is unclear whether abuse by certain virtual employees or a lack of oversight, or both, caused hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent by less than one hundred employees, in less than one year," Issa wrote.
Issa's letter to Tangherlini details travel costs from October 2010 to June 2011 for 95 "virtual employees," including $200,000 paid to 12 supervisory employees.
According to Issa, Jeff Neely, the former public buildings commissioner for GSA's Region 9 and the organizer of the Western Regions Conference, said "OMG," in an email after looking at a spreadsheet of the travel reimbursements. Neely then forwarded the information to co-workers and wrote, "This will take your breath away. Don't share further."
"The fact that the excessive travel reimbursements shocked Jeffrey Neely … speaks volumes," Issa said in his letter to Tangherlini.
GSA is by far the most generous federal agency when awarding bonuses. Federal Times reported Monday that 87 percent of all GSA employees — and 94 percent of employees in GSA's Public Buildings Service, which is at the center of the Western Regions Conference scandal — received bonuses last year.
McCaskill is now broadening her probe to include bonuses given to all federal employees. In a May 23 letter to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, McCaskill asked for details on all federal bonuses awarded between 2008 and 2011. She also asked Berry what OPM could do to ensure agencies withhold bonuses when employees are under investigation, until those investigations are resolved.
McCaskill said GSA gave $38,664 in bonuses since 2008 to a programs operations officer who was reassigned after an IG abuse-of-authority investigation. GSA also gave a GS-14 supervisor more than $20,000 in bonuses despite being reprimanded for interfering with an IG investigation.
The Kansas City Star first reported the results of McCaskill's investigation June 2.