Lawmakers slam GSA officials for South Pacific trips at 2nd day of hearings

Lawmakers on Tuesday accused officials with the federal General Services Administration of jet-setting around the South Pacific on the taxpayers' dime, and the lawmakers described the agency's pricey 2010 Las Vegas conference as the tip of the iceberg of wasteful spending.

On the second day of testimony, a new committee took up the scandal but still focused in large part on the actions of GSA regional commissioner Jeffrey Neely and his wife. Neely did not attend Tuesday's hearing before a House transportation subcommittee, a day after pleading the Fifth before a separate congressional panel.

Lawmakers, though, hammered Neely and the agency over several trips -- particularly a 17-day excursion that apparently took Neely and his wife to Guam, Hawaii and Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Family members often were taken along on such trips, and in an email exchange between Neely and his wife last November, they wrote of the planned trip turning into a birthday celebration.

Referring to the 17-day trip, which was to take place in February, Neely wrote his wife: "Rough schedule per our conversation. Guess this'll be your birthday present?"

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She responded, "Its yo birthday....We gonna pawty like iz yo birthday!"

Committee members pointed out that Neely also visited Hawaii for nine days in October 2011 and four days last March.

"This guy set up a fiefdom," Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said Tuesday of Neely before invoking a past corruption scandal: "Not since Jack Abramoff has anybody walked in with such swagger and ability as what it appears like that this guy was able to do."

In addition, Neely had nine pre-planning trips for the Las Vegas conference in 2010, an event that all together ended up costing taxpayers more than $820,000. The GSA has started to demand repayment of a portion of that money from Neely and other officials.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., said Tuesday that taxpayers deserve to be repaid for the expenses. He added: "Where crimes have been committed, people will go to jail."

In the wake of the inspector general's report, two officials have been fired and the administrator of the agency has resigned. Ten other officials have been placed on administrative leave.

Inspector General Brian Miller, whose report on the Las Vegas conference touched off congressional investigations, almost seemed overwhelmed by the scope of wrongdoing.

"Every time we turned over a stone we found 50 more with all kinds of things crawling out," Miller said.

Miller also discussed how items that were stored as GSA employee prizes were reported stolen, with the trail in one case allegedly leading back to Neely's family.

He said 40 items were originally reported stolen, but then investigators found about 115 iPods were missing from that prize program. After subpoenaing Apple for information, Miller said it turned out one of the iPods was "in Mr. Neely's personal possession." Neely's daughter, he said, had been "downloading iTunes."

"There were so few controls and so little restriction preventing people from even going into the (GSA) store and taking things out that we could not tell for sure who stole what from that store," Miller said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.