The troubled General Service Administration (GSA) steers into tougher times as it faces hiring freezes and bonus cuts and has another major conference under scrutiny for overspending. Charles Clark, senior correspondent for Government Executive, talks with Matt McCleskey, host of WAMU's Morning Edition on why the conference was cancelled and how the cuts affect government workers.
Why the annual GovEnergy conference in St. Louis was cancelled: "The GSA is playing it safe on this one. They have uncovered what they call some structural problems, based on their new tougher policy on conferences. They have referred it to the Inspector General (IG), although that doesn't necessarily mean they would uncover anything scandalous," says Clark. "They definitely want to send a message that some of these contracts that were for sponsorships may be not up to the current standards."
Contracts that are under scrutiny: "The GSA, IG have been unspecific about it. The conference involves a lot of corporate and small business sponsors. It's supposed to be mutually beneficial. It's been going on for 15 years now," says Clark. "It's not necessarily an inherently problematic relationship. But there seem to be some details that have drawn the scrutiny of GSA who is a little bit sensitive about the issue."
Implications of this new investigation: "Politically, there are some Republicans on the Hill who have really been gunning for GSA," says Clark. "GSA has an uphill battle, but under Dan Tangherlini, the acting administrator for GSA, they've also made a lot of changes in the last three months, not all of them are popular, but they're trying to become the model government agency for administrative agency management issues."
On how the hiring freeze and bonus cuts affects the moral of federal workers: "It's certainly not a big surprise in this climate. They've been hearing this anti-government, federal employee rhetoric for months now," says Clark. "The Senior Executives Association, of course, is upset about long-term recruiting, people who are competing for job offers in the private sector if they can't get any bonuses or long-term compensation may go else where, and that doesn't bode well for the long-term qualifications of the federal work force."