OTR Interviews

GSA bonuses in the crosshairs

Sen. Claire McCaskill targets GSA's 'Hats Off' bonus program for employees and officials


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 17, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And another lightning rod at today's hearing, GSA workers getting paid extra money, bonuses, for finding ways to waste your money, members of Congress pummeling former top GSA officials for giving employee bonuses.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you give bonuses?

MARTHA JOHNSON, FORMER GSA ADMINISTRATOR: We did give -- we did give bonuses to the senior executives, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you give a bonus to Mr. Neely?

JOHNSON: We did give a bonus to Mr. Neely.


JOHNSON: The recommendation from the performance review board chaired by Ms. Brita was to give him a three. I asked Ms. Brita if they had discussed in the review the IG report and where it was. She said there was virtually no mention of it in the meeting. I can't remember her exact words, but she said that they did not consider that in their deliberations of recommending a three.

The buildings commissioner recommended a four. He said that based on Mr. Neely's performance with respect to the leasing portfolio was the strongest across the country and that fit with a four recommendation.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Claire McCaskill began investing the GSA in 2010. She wants to know which other GSA officials also received bonuses, and how much. Senator Claire McCaskill joins us. Nice to see you.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-MO.: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you've been trying to get information out of this GSA for quite some time. I have a November 2010 letter, at least one. What's the -- why -- why aren't you getting this information? What's taking so long?

MCCASKILL: Well, I -- I chair a subcommittee on contracting oversight, and so I am busy all the time working with inspectors general across government, trying to find contracting abuses and waste.

In that work, we realized there was a contract that I was aware of in Kansas City that appeared wasteful on its face, so I began investigating it as part of my committee work and found that, in fact, it was a ridiculous contract.

VAN SUSTEREN: $1.3 billion in public relations and advertising contracts is the one that you were concerned about in this letter.

MCCASKILL: And it was -- it was a PR contract. It was wasteful. And so then as we worked on this, I began to realize that the GSA wasn't really giving the inspectors general any respect. And that's really the problem.

And I really want to push back on what Congressman Mica said about this inspector general. People need to realize these inspector generals are independent. They work as an independent auditor in these agencies. They're the eyes and ears of taxpayers. And this inspector general did good work here, good independent work.

VAN SUSTEREN: But wait! It takes a long time! Like, you know, what? I -- he -- he may be very busy or whatever, but if -- at least if you make -- if you come forward and you become public and have the media put heat or Congress put heat, it can move a lot faster so we can at least eliminate some of it.

MCCASKILL: But the problem is, Greta, what he is doing is, in a government audit, you have to bring the auditee your findings and you have to get their response before you can make your report final.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. OK, let's try this. I call up the guy, Neely, and say, You got a clown at Las Vegas. What's up?


VAN SUSTEREN: I mean -- I mean...

MCCASKILL: Listen...

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, that one seems...


MCCASKILL: I am not here to defend the activities that occurred. I'm here to say the inspector general behaved under government auditing standards, took too long, but he should not have gone public until the audit was completed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, maybe we should change the standards...


MCCASKILL: But they shouldn't have ever gotten the bonuses. They shouldn't have ever gotten the bonuses.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is another thing that I know that -- I shouldn't say it drives you crazy. I use that loosely. But it makes us all angry. But is there some way you can speed up, give them -- empower these inspector generals to move faster? Because they're the internal police officers.

MCCASKILL: Well, sometimes, an auditee drags their feet on the response, and so you're got to make a decision. Do I go ahead and pop this audit without the response from the auditee, knowing that maybe there's a response that I need to have, or do I allow them to drag the process?

And I think this was a time where there was a number of audits going on. I think that the auditee -- in this case, GSA -- was not excited about this becoming public. And I think they worked to delay the process.

The good news is the auditor came out with a strong report that is going to help us make changes in contracting. That's the good news.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, I mean, I guess that's the good news. I guess I'm so appalled at the length of time that it takes while other bad decisions are made. But let me even -- you -- I mean, you sent a letter out. And as I understand it, that you've given them until April 27th to report back to you who got bonuses and how much, right?


VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Why'd you give them until -- I mean, I'd give them until this afternoon at 5:00 o'clock.

MCCASKILL: Well, sometimes when you do that, you just don't get an answer.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, is there nothing you can -- you have no -- no muscle? You have no sort of- there's nothing you can do?

MCCASKILL: The bright light of shame and embarrassment, which you would think would be pretty big right now for this agency. And I believe - - frankly, I had a real back-and-forth with Martha Johnson before all this broke about the Las Vegas problem, about whether or not she should have ever allowed this woman who testified in front of my committee to get a bonus. And they put her on the committee to decide bonuses!

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, but do they just ignore your request, I mean, I mean, so that you can't -- I mean -- I mean, do you have no sort of recourse if you say, I need that in 24 hours, and they just don't do it?

MCCASKILL: There really isn't any recourse short of beginning a process of trying to pull their funding, short of a process of having a press conference and embarrassing them. So what you do is you do your best. And we've been very aggressive on the subcommittee on contracting.

In fact, one of the things that's frustrating is today, when the circus, literally, with the clowns down in the House, we're holding a hearing on contracting abuses in the Defense Department that reach $60 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan.

VAN SUSTEREN: I know, but I mean -- I mean, I guess that is sort of - - you know, we focus on this one because we can get our hands around it.


VAN SUSTEREN: But I mean -- and then -- you know, but we hear all these problems, sort of, we don't have enough money and there's fights about cutting he firefighters and police officers and whether to raise taxes or not. You know, we have these billions and billions of dollars in contract fraud and that -- it's -- I mean, it's extraordinary.

MCCASKILL: It is extraordinary. And we hollowed out the acquisition force. We didn't give enough support to our government auditors. And we paid a price for it. Now we're reversing that by working very hard at getting contract procedures in place that will provide much more strict guidance to Defense Department, State Department, USAID and Homeland Security.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can we get any of that money back, those who defrauded?

MCCASKILL: We've tried. We've tried some clawbacks. The problem is, they let the contractors write the contracts. The way they scoped these contracts...

VAN SUSTEREN: Who's they? Who's they?

MCCASKILL: This would have been the Defense Department back in the early days...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, who in the world -- who in the world would write something like that? What -- what -- what kind of person would write a contract where someone defrauds you, you're -- that's tough?

MCCASKILL: Well, but some of this isn't out-and-out fraud. And you understand the difference, obviously, between fraud, waste and abuse.


MCCASKILL: Some of this is like giving them a cost-plus contract so they can go monogram hand towels to drive up how much we paid them.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, who would -- I mean, like, who in the world would write a contract like that?

MCCASKILL: They -- the government didn't write it.


MCCASKILL: The contractor did.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I mean, why would you let a -- it's like saying the fox ought to guard the chicken coop! Why is that allowed?

MCCASKILL: Contingency contracting -- what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan on contracting is shameful, if you look at the war profiteering that's gone on. And now we're trying to get the Defense Department and the State Department and USAID to get their act together on contracting.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I got an idea. I got an idea. Write a law and let personal injury lawyers get a percentage of going after any money and the personal injury lawyers will go out and recover some of your money.

MCCASKILL: Probably not a bad idea.


VAN SUSTEREN: Probably not a bad idea. They'll get it for you really fast. Anyway, Senator, thank you.


VAN SUSTEREN: And good luck!

MCCASKILL: Thank you very much.