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Analysis: Hearings On GSA Abound, Conference Scrutiny Expands

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Federal employees in almost two dozen government agencies are now under scrutiny in the wake of the spending scandal surrounding the General Services Administration. Congressional hearings this week heard details of the lavish Las Vegas conference in 2010, and members of Congress expressed outrage and warned that at least one GSA official could face criminal charges. 

Charles Clark, senior correspondent for Government Executive, talks with WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about the ongoing saga. Here are some highlights. 

On whether the scandal is waning, or still on the upswing: "Well the tone has been some anger and frustration, although the GSA officials have been largely contrite … really no one is defending the lavish conference," Clark says. "But the information from the inspector general's report has been paid out gradually by congressional committees. One member said, 'This is just the tip of the iceberg,' so I suspect it will continue."

Whether a ripple effect from this investigation will move into other federal agencies: "Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a week ago sent a letter to 23 departments asking for about seven years of detailed data on their conference planning and travel budgets," Clark says. "Now, some critics think this is a little bit of a fishing expedition that might cost a lot of money in and of itself. But all the agencies are aware that conferences are under a lot of scrutiny; I've even heard of several at GSA that have been cancelled recently."

What to expect at today's hearings on the issue at the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee: "Today's hearings ... feature the inspector general, as well as the acting administrator of the GSA, both of whom have been heard from," Clark says. "It's really more of an opportunity for the senators to ask questions, and perhaps get towards a solution, perhaps toward guidelines for future spending on conferences."

On the scandal's effects on the morale of federal workers: "Yes … a lot of federal employees who write in the GovExec comments section online feel they're being tarred with a broad brush and that the GSA people have made life worse for a lot of them," Clark says. "Of course, the image and pay rates of the federal workforce is a huge election year issue, and while everyone on the Hill is concerned about the merits of this issue, you can see that some of the House Republicans want to broaden the debate towards the issue of how big government ought to be." 

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