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GSA employees are reporting abuses, watchdog says; Messages to hotline trigger new probes

The General Services Administration's internal watchdog said Wednesday that employees are heeding his call to report wrongdoing, and messages on his hotline have triggered new investigations beyond an $823,000 Las Vegas conference and junkets to resorts.

"I don't know what we're going to find, but it has not been pretty," Inspector General Brian Miller told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Miller previously revealed that GSA officials in Western states went on taxpayer-financed junkets to Hawaii, South Pacific islands, California's Napa Valley and Palm Springs; stayed in resort hotel suites, and threw lavish parties. His April 2 report detailed how four Western regions partied at their Las Vegas conference in 2010, which featured a clown, a mind reader, a team-building exercise to build bicycles and a rap video making fun of the spending.

Miller previously said that employees would not blow the whistle on the misconduct because they believed they would be "squashed like a bug" for doing so.

"The result of the release of the report is that people are coming forward now," he said. "They are calling the (inspector general's) hotline.

The Democratic-led Environment committee struck a somewhat different tone than two Republican-run House hearings this week that featured those who allowed or participated in the misconduct.

While the outrage over GSA spending has been bipartisan, the Senate panel only summoned Miller and Acting GSA Administrator Daniel Tangherlini, the two officials who are playing key roles in changing the free-spending culture at the GSA.

"We got the two good guys here," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., his party's ranking Republican on the committee.

In a dig at the House hearings, Chairman Barbara Boxer said, "We're not looking for photo ops of people taking the Fifth." This was a reference to the San Francisco-based regional executive, Jeffrey Neely, who hosted the Las Vegas conference and went on a number of trips after the inspector general warned top officials about his excessive travel. Neely asserted his right to remain silent at one House hearing and failed to appear at a second.

Boxer, D-Calif., said the committee's goal is "to make sure we don't have a repeat of this nightmare."

In a separate Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Miller said GSA officials would negotiate upgrades for themselves with the resorts where the conferences were held. For instance, at the Las Vegas conference, the resort upgraded some officials to $1,100 two-story loft suites for the federal allocation of $93 per night. The hotel did so, Miller said, in return for the extensive catering that GSA ordered at the facility.

"That is under investigation," Miller said. "As we talked about before, we have a criminal referral" asking the Justice Department to bring an indictment.

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