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GSA rewards program cost public $438,000

The General Services Administration developed an employee awards program that spent more than $438,000 over three years, far exceeding the agency's per-gift limit of $99, congressional investigators reported Friday.

Investigators for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said the "Hats Off Program" initially gave out items of nominal value. Over time, the awards became iPods, digital cameras, GPS devices and other electronics. The spending was for the 2007 through 2010 budget years.

The GSA, the real estate agency for federal buildings, said in a statement that the program has ended. "Operations have been suspended pending a continuing top down review of all spending," the statement said.

The agency has been under fire from Congress after its inspector general reported this week that GSA lavishly spent $820,000 for a Las Vegas conference in 2010. The head of the agency resigned, two deputies were fired and other employees were suspended. The Transportation panel and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are just starting investigations of the agency's wasteful spending.

The Transportation panel said the inspector general learned of the awards program from an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.

The Federal Protective Service initially said that about 40 iPods with an estimated value of $8,000 were reported stolen. Further investigation revealed some 115 of the devices valued at more than $20,000 were unaccounted for and may have been stolen.

In 2009, the average gift per employee in the agency's Public Buildings Service was $328, the Transportation Committee said. Top awards went to people who were involved with administering the program.

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