GSA Again Under Fire, Now Over Video Spoof
The same government agency already under fire for wasteful spending at a Las Vegas conference is under further scrutiny today for a newly discovered video featuring a U.S. General Services Administration employee joking about excess government spending.
The video features a GSA employee, identified as Hank Terlaje, playing the ukulele to the tune of Travie McCoy & Bruno Mars' "I Wanna Be a Billionaire," and rapping about what life would be like were he to become the GSA administrator, or in his parlance "Commissioner." Among his promises, ironically, is that the agency would "never be under OIG investigation."
"Obama better prepare, when I'm Commissioner," he croons. "I'd have a road show like [Acting Regional GSA Administrator Jeffrey] Neely, every time you see me rolling on 20s yeah, in my GOV. Spend BA 61 all on fun. ATF can't touch GS-15 guns! Cause I buy everything your field office can't afford. Every GS-5 would get a top hat award. Donate my vacation, love to the nation, I'll never be under OIG investigation."
Terlaje, who is an employee of the Hawaiian office of the GSA, won first prize for the creative project and was named honorary GSA commissioner for the day.
The House committee on Oversight and Government Reform circulated the video, which was uncovered by an investigation by GSA's Inspector General.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was blistering in his attack on the GSA and the Obama administration.
"It takes a lot of work to spend $3,000 a person and at a time when unemployment was nearly 10 percent, Americans were suffering and GSA was enjoying the good times and doing so with high-ranking political employees," Issa said. "This administration knew about this 11 months ago and they didn't act until the press got wind of it. This is typically what has been happening in this administration. They are only transparent when they are discovered."
ABC News spoke to Terlaje on Thursday afternoon, but he wouldn't comment, referring reporters to GSA spokesman Adam Elkington.
"This video is another example of the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference," Elkington, deputy press secretary at GSA, said. "Our agency continues to be appalled by this indefensible behavior, and we are taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."
GSA helps manage the basic functions of federal agencies, including by developing policies intended to minimize the cost of doing business with the federal government.
The Pacific rim region of GSA, which conducts oversight on federal property in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada, ran an incentive program for employees called Top Hats, which Terlaje apparently referenced in his lyrics. Top Hats allowed workers to cash in reward points for about $200,000 in taxpayer funded giftcards, electronics and iPods.
In congratulating the winner at the conference, Deputy Commissioner of the Public Building Service David Foley presents an award and jokes about a "party that was held in the commissioner's suite," having to respond to congressional oversight, and the Obama administration's efforts to control executive pay.
Even before the video came to light, the agency was criticized for spending about $823,000 on a Las Vegas convention in 2010 for 300 employees, which included thousands of dollars spent on items such as a commemorative coin set, a mind reader, a comedian and a clown.
GSA administrator Martha Johnson resigned abruptly after the GSA Inspector General presented findings of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars from the conference.
Reacting to the IG's report earlier this week, Issa said it is "hypocritical that such a large agency with critical management responsibilities across government would hold this luxurious conference at the height of the recession and even spend thousands on custom made coins touting the stimulus," particularly after "President Obama lectured the private sector about not wasting funds on Las Vegas conventions."
Today White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked whether the White House is confident that no other embarrassing examples of excess government spending will surface in the future.
"When the White House was informed of the inspector general's findings in this matter, we at the White House quickly acted to determine who was responsible for such a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars," Carney said. "The president was informed before his trip to South Korea, and he was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars. He called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as president."
When Congress returns to Washington following the Easter recess, the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, will convene a hearing April 19 to review the matter.
"This type of waste and abuse is outrageous," Rep. Jeff Denham, the chairman of the subcommittee, stated today. "As Chairman of the Subcommittee overseeing GSA and as I've stated before, 'business as usual is over.' I expect detailed explanations on how and why these abuses occurred from those who have been fired or placed on leave and the Committee is prepared to request subpoenas, if necessary. The taxpayers have a right to know the truth."