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Another GSA official placed on leave in spending controversy

From Dana Bash, CNN
June 7, 2012 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • General Services Administration says official appeared to make light of congressional oversight
  • Newly released video footage continues an uproar over wasteful government spending
  • Congressional investigators examine the GSA's lavish 2010 conference in Las Vegas
  • Hearings are planned for next week by House and Senate committees

Washington (CNN) -- Another government official was placed on administrative leave Monday in the continuing fallout over wasteful spending involving a 2010 Las Vegas conference for government workers, the General Services Administration announced.

David Foley, a deputy commissioner of the Public Building Service in the GSA, was identified by a House oversight panel as the official seen in video footage from the conference appearing to make light of congressional oversight.

According to an administration source who spoke on condition of not being identified, Foley became the eighth member of the GSA staff to be fired, placed on leave or otherwise removed from their job because of the controversy,

The announcement by GSA spokesman Adam Elkington came after Monday's release of additional video footage involving the 2010 Western Regions Conference, this time showing government workers mocking a clean energy campaign pushed by President Barack Obama.

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The video clip, made available by a Republican-led House oversight committee, shows GSA workers promoting the "go green" campaign, singing along to a gospel-style tune.

One line of the song says "POTUS wants a press event, a project he can show," while a worker holds up a portrait of Obama. POTUS stands for "president of the United States."

The workers' video was submitted for an awards competition at the 2010 conference, and accompanying footage of the awards ceremony shows a GSA official saying the video included any workers who were in the office on the day it was made.

Reports of the lavish conference have prompted taxpayer outrage, embarrassed the administration and put a spotlight on wasteful spending by the agency, which acts as a real estate agency for the federal government.

An inspector-general's report issued last week that detailed the excesses of the $820,000 conference brought the resignation of GSA chief Martha Johnson, after she fired two top officials. In addition, congressional investigators are accusing the GSA of violating its employee gift limit with rewards of iPods, digital cameras and other electronics.

With the agency coming under fire, an Obama administration source told CNN that the budget for the biennial conference ballooned during the Bush administration, growing from just under $94,000 for the 2004 event in Portland, Oregon, to just over $655,000 by the 2008 confab in New Orleans. By comparison, the source said, the tab for the 2010 conference was only 28% higher than 2008.

But a spokeswoman for the Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on the GSA for Monday, dismissed the argument.

"It's certainly important to understand whether increased costs in past years were used for real work and offset elsewhere or if increases were attributable to the kind of lavish spending that occurred in 2010 on parties, clowns, mind readers, commemorative coins and music videos done on official time," committee spokeswoman Becca Watkins said. But she added, "These statistics have been pushed by anonymous voices that have so far refused to provide critical details and context in the midst of their efforts to blame the Bush administration for abuses that occurred in 2010."

Watkins said the committee, led by California Rep. Darrell Issa, "has requested that GSA deliver information about previous conferences, including their cost and the number of individuals who attended."

The GSA has denounced the actions of those who put on the 2010 conference and were depicted in a series of video clips made public in the past week.

"These videos reinforce once again the complete lack of judgment exhibited during the 2010 Western Regions Conference," Elkington said Monday. "Our agency continues to be appalled by this indefensible behavior, and we are taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."

On Friday, Republican investigators for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said the GSA's Public Buildings Service developed an employee incentive program dating back several years known as the "Hats Off Store" that spent nearly $500,000 on gifts -- from iPods to GPS devices -- that vastly exceeded its $99-per-gift limit.

The investigators also said that accounting for the gifts, as well as the justification for giving them, was lacking or inconsistent, according to a statement released by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-California, chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, and Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, chairman of the Transportation Committee.

While the investigation found the GSA's massive spending began in 2007 under the Bush administration and continued under the current leadership, Republican representatives leading the investigation have hammered Obama over the allegations.

Meanwhile, Issa has accused the White House of sitting on the inspector general's findings about the GSA for 11 months. The administration has dismissed Issa's claims, saying the investigation followed proper procedures.

Issa and Mica plan congressional hearings on the issue next week. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, says she also will hold hearings on the GSA findings next week.

Elkington said the GSA welcomes "responsible oversight" and "remains committed to eliminating excessive federal spending and promoting government efficiency."

CNN's Tom Cohen and Laurie Ure contributed to this report.

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