Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)
In a display of bureaucratic gymnastics, Jeff Neely, the official at the heart of the General Services Administration conference scandal, reported to two people: a senior counsel at the agency, and himself.
Neely was both the Pacific Rim region commissioner for the Public Buildings Service and the region’s acting administrator — the top GSA position in the area — Susan Brita, the agency’s deputy administrator, said a congressional hearing Tuesday. That dual authority appears to have contributed to his ability to rack up vast bills for conferences using taxpayer money.
Neely was largely responsible for putting on an $823,000 Las Vegas-area conference for 300 GSA employees in 2010. Called to appear before hearings Monday, Neely pleaded the Fifth Amendment, asserting his right not to incriminate himself.
Brian Miller, the GSA’s inspector general, investigated the conference, finding that Neely had thrown a $2,700 party in a hotel suite using taxpayer money, and hired a clown and a mind reader to perform.
Miller told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday that Neely’s two jobs gave him the “final say-so” over spending on the conference. In addition to his official authority, Miller said that Neely intimidated subordinates who tried to blow the whistle on his extravagances.
Robert Peck, the national head of the buildings service, equivocated when asked by Rep.Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., whether he had authority to reign in Neely.
“And you were his supervisor, were you not? Yes or no?” Cummings asked.
“Again, no, sir,” was Peck’s reply. “The way the GSA structure works, the Public Building — the regional commissioners do not report directly to the national commissioner. However, there is a very strong dotted-line authority to the PBS national commissioner.”
At the hearing Monday, Martha Johnson, the GSA chief who resigned when Miller’s investigation was published, said she appointed a regional administrator in August in an attempt to impose some control on Neely.
But as late as this March, managers from the Pacific Rim region were being whisked away for a $40,000 meeting in California’s Napa Valley. A month later, Miller completed his report and Neely was suspended.