The former General Services Administration official who planned the agency’s $800,000 over-the-top Las Vegas conference five years ago just pled guilty to defrauding the federal government out of at least $5,000.
Jeff Neely, the former acting regional administrator at the GSA, pled guilty on Tuesday to making false expense claims. He also admitted perjuring himself by claiming them as legitimate expenses to federal investigators.
Details of the massively extravagant conference surfaced in a 2012 Inspectors General report where auditors revealed that officials blew nearly $1 million for some 300 employees to stay at the luxurious M Resort Spa Casino right off the Vegas Strip. The IG said some of the agency’s top executives stayed in two-story suites with wet bars, while dining at a $7,000 sushi reception.
On top of that, the event’s organizers reportedly spent $130,000 on “scouting trips” before the conference.
The report sparked enormous scrutiny from lawmakers on Capitol Hill who decried the conferences as a blatant waste of tax dollars. Neely was placed on administrative leave in April of 2012, shortly after the IG report was released. He resigned from the GSA in May of that year. GSA administrator Martha Johnson also left the agency.
Neely faces up to five years in prison. He already agreed to pay $8,000 in restitution as part of the plea, The Washington Post reported.
GSA’s conference scandal opened the gates for intense scrutiny by lawmakers and the media of how much other agencies were spending on events and travel.
Not long after the GSA scandal, a separate report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that the Internal Revenue Service was also splurging on conferences.
TIGTA reported that the IRS spent nearly $4 million on one conference alone in California in 2012. Overall, TIGTA said the agency has spent $50 million on 220 conferences in the last few years.
In fact, the agency still hasn’t lived down the conference spending scandal. Lawmakers still cite it while justifying the massive budget cuts the IRS has absorbed in the last few years.
Since then, however, the Obama administration has attempted to crack down on excessive travel and event spending. In 2012, the Office of Management and Budget issued guidelines requiring agencies to report event spending to their inspector generals and prohibiting them from spending more than $500,000 per event without permission.
"The federal government has a responsibility to act as a careful steward of taxpayer dollars, ensuring that federal funds are used for purposes that are appropriate, cost effective, and important to the core mission of executive departments and agencies," the OMB Director Jeffrey Zients wrote in a statement.
However, there are still some departments struggling to keep track of their conference spending.
Earlier this year, the Defense Department’s inspector general reported that the agency wasn’t accurately submitting how many conferences they held and how much they cost.
The auditors suggested that the DOD improve its expense reporting practices. As usual, the Pentagon concurred.
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