Ninety-five high-ranking employees at the General Services Administration who are assigned to work from home racked up $750,000 in travel expenses over nine months, documents show, prompting concerns from agency officials but no action to curtail the expenses.
The travel records, provided by the agency to congressional committees, provide fresh evidence of a spending culture at GSA’s Public Buildings Service that led to an embarrassing scandal this spring over a conference off the Las Vegas strip.
The former executive at the center of that event, the 2010 Western Regions conference, authorized $823,000 for a four-day event for 300 employees that featured far more entertainment than work.
Even the executive, Jeffrey Neely, was surprised to learn of the travel expenses for the 95 employees who work from their homes, according to e-mails and other documents provided to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which oversees the federal workforce.
“OMG,” Neely wrote in an e-mail last October to a colleague, Regional Commissioner Robin Graf, who had sent a spreadsheet to several managers with a breakdown of the travel reimbursement costs for “virtual” employees. She expressed concern about a lack of oversight of these employees.
“100 virtuals and most of them with some pretty serious grades,” Neely wrote, referring to the employees’ General Schedule status. “[W]ell this is a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.”
Neely forwarded the e-mail chain to other colleagues with this message: “This will take your breath away. Don’t share further.” The work-from-home employees were apparently traveling to regional headquarters in the Public Buildings Service and other events.
Neely resigned from the Public Buildings Service in May after he was placed on paid administrative leave following the release of an inspector general’s report on the Las Vegas conference. The overspending led to the resignation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and the firing of her top lieutenants.
Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote a letter Friday to Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini expressing concerns about the latest travel expenses to emerge.
GSA spokesman Adam Elkington said Friday the agency is “conducting an extensive review” of its operations that includes travel policies and staff deployment.
“Our agency remains committed to eliminating any excessive spending and promoting government efficiency,” he said.
Tangherlini has condemned the spending culture that he said led to the excesses at the Western Regions conference and begun what he called a “top-to-bottom” review of the agency’s spending, structure and operations.
Of 95 work-at-home employees, 12 are supervisors who received reimbursements of more than $200,000 for travel-related expenses in 2010 and 2011, the documents provided to congressional committees show. A majority of the 95 are listed at the GS-14 and GS-15-level.
In his letter, Issa asked for further documentation of the trips, as well as justification for work-at-home arrangements and whether they were effective.
“The American people have a right to know that federal bureaucrats who enjoy the benefits of virtual work are eligible and responsible stewards of the taxpayer dollars that support he program,” Issa wrote.
He noted that the justification for work-at-home arrangements of 36 of the “virtual” employees was unknown, according to documents GSA provided to the committee.
“This indicates a lack of proper oversight and an ignorance of the regulations that govern federal telework programs,” Issa wrote.