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Emerson Report 4.26.2012

The Case for Cuts at GSA

The General Services Administration (GSA) is like many government agencies – it is tough to figure out what they do by their name.  GSA manages buildings, leases, vehicles and office supplies for the federal bureaucracy.  It doesn’t do very much of its job well.

Just in southern Missouri, the agency leased way too much space for the U.S. Census bureau in 2010, they botched the auction of a federal building in Cape Girardeau, and they charge rents for federal office space that no one in their right minds would pay.

Last year, I cut $1.6 billion from the president’s request for GSA.  I was more than comfortable planning more cuts to their budget for the next fiscal year.

Now comes a scandal that has enraged taxpaying Americans throughout the country and outraged me.  GSA spent $832,000 on a Las Vegas conference that included luxury suites, a clown, a $75,000 “team-building exercise” to construct 24 bicycles, food and alcohol for parties in hotel rooms, and a mind-reader.

If the GSA thought this conference was going to go over well with taxpayers, then they didn’t get their money’s worth out of the mind reader.

When it was all over, one of the employees got $9,000 for his “outstanding performance.”

The head of GSA resigned, several high-ranking employees have been fired, others are on administrative leave awaiting punishments, the Department of Justice has been asked to file criminal charges, and perks have been stripped from the agency’s employees.  That is something, but it isn’t enough.

The real root of these problems – the culture of waste and abuse of public trust at GSA – can be attributed to many things, but an excess of funding bears a huge part of the blame.  GSA got a windfall sum from the failed “stimulus,” and even this year, the president is asking for more money for the agency.  It should have less… much less.

And it will.  I want GSA to operate in a glass box – with limits on its funding and what it can be used for, and total transparency in every expense.

There is no place for luxury resorts on the taxpayer dime.  An attitude that taxpayer money is available for this kind of expense is deplorable and despicable.

There are many good people working at GSA.  I hope this scandal and the subsequent reductions in funding and freedom at the agency gives them the opportunity to change the climate there, make improvements and efficiencies, and give the American taxpayers the agency they deserve.

Even then, outraged members of Congress will be watching like hawks to see that the agency is accountable for its actions in every way.