GSA's 'Hats Off' Program Fuels Further Criticism

With the U.S. General Services Administration under a cloud of scrutiny for questionable spending practices, the House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure today released new details from a report showing that the government agency known commonly as GSA spent nearly $440,000 on "lavish gifts" like iPods and digital cameras for an incentive program for its employees.

High-ranking officials in the Public Buildings Service developed an incentive program store known as the Hats Off Store. The program was initially introduced in 2001, awarding prizes of low value like mugs, mouse pads and backpacks labeled with GSA logos or insignia.

But over time, high-value items such as iPods, digital cameras and GPS devices were added into the program, often in violation of the GSA's $99 limit on gifts. From FY2007-2010 the program distributed $438,750 worth of lavish gifts to its employees, according to the committee.

"The Hats Off award program degenerated into a taxpayer-funded give-away where employees handed out iPods to their office buddies for almost any reason," Rep. John Mica, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, said. "Not surprisingly the IG report identified the supervisors who ran the Hats Off store as the biggest winners of taxpayer swag. There was no accountability at GSA."

The report also finds a lack of physical security for award items in storage; 40 iPods with an estimated value of $8,000 were reported stolen, although a subsequent investigation revealed that approximately 115 iPods valued at more than $20,000 were unaccounted for and may have been stolen.

GSA helps manage the basic functions of federal agencies, including developing policies intended to minimize the cost of doing business with the federal government. ABC News aired a report Thursday evening detailing a GSA convention in Las Vegas that cost taxpayers about $823,000, including a talent contest where an employee spoofed the agency and joked about excessive government spending.

"The Vegas vacation is just the tip of the iceberg," Mica, R-Fla., said. "The Hats Off boondoggle is one more example of the Administration's complete disregard for taxpayer money."

"More and more information is coming out about the total lack of accountability and outrageous spending habits of the General Services Administration. The Obama Administration thinks it can treat hardworking taxpayer dollars like their own private slush fund," Rep. Jeff Denham, chairman of the subcommittee investigating the matter, stated. "The arrogance of giving away a grab bag of free stuff to its employees instead of effectively managing our federal properties is a disgrace.  There must be serious consequences for this type of blatant waste of taxpayer dollars."