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Recent Senate Hearing on GSA Reforms

Picture 189On September 12th, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing to check in on the recent well-publicized waste scandal at GSA. The hearing was titled Moving from Scandal to Strategy: The Future of the General Services Administration. Video and transcripts of the prepared remarks can be viewed here.

After opening remarks by Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Susan Collins, Acting GSA Administrator Daniel Tangherlini and GSA Inspector General Brian Miller discussed the steps that have recently been taken by GSA to address the waste, fraud and abuse that came to light earlier this year. Immediate changes have been made, including cancelling 47 planned conferences and instituting new procedures for travel, approval, budgets, hiring and information technology. Additionally, the budget for senior employee performance awards has been cut by 85%. Mr. Tangherlini estimates the changes in conferences and travel alone have already saved taxpayers $11 million.

After the IG’s report was released, Mr. Tangherlini and his team conducted a top-to-bottom review of GSA strategy and operations and GSA has instituted several reforms recommended by the Inspector General. All budget functions have been centralized and re-aligned under the responsibility of GSA’s Chief Financial Officer. Agency-wide information technology has been centralized under GSA’s Chief Information Officer in an effort to increase oversight and reduce redundancy. Similarly, all hiring will now be managed by GSA’s Chief People Officer. Mr. Tangherlini also instituted a GSA-wide hiring freeze.

GSA also started a program called the “Great Ideas Hunt” to solicit suggestions and ideas from employees to improve operations and increase savings. Some of these ideas were implemented quickly, including cancelling some periodical subscriptions and eliminating paper-based surveys. GSA estimates these changes will result in savings of $5.5 million annually. The Inspector General’s team also conducted townhall meetings at GSA offices to remind employees that they are the first line of defense against waste, fraud and abuse. After the May release of the IG’s initial report, hotline tips regarding waste more than doubled. Additionally, GSA is freezing per diem travel rates for Fiscal Year 2013, which should result in $20 million in avoided costs for federal agencies.

Mr. Miller, the Inspector General, identified the use of government purchase cards as another area of concern. Since 2009, the Inspector General has identified and recovered $1.9 million in fraudulent charges on government purchase cards. It was noted that 15% of government purchase cards have been taken away from individuals, in an effort to ensure spending is given proper oversight. Mr. Tangherlini mentioned that some employees who have violated rules have received bills to reimburse the Government for their abusive spending, such as in the much-discussed Las Vegas conference. “If there’s a dollar we can get back, I’m going to go and try to get it,” Mr. Tangherlini stated.

Everyone seemed to think this was a great start, but there is still work to be done. The Industrial Funding Fee is an area for further study, considering revenues raised from this 0.75% fee have exceeded GSA costs for the last several years. There seems to be significant discussion on reducing this fee, and that is undergoing further analysis. GSA is also looking into long-term changes to increase agency usage of GSA contract vehicles, such as proactive outreach to agencies. Another area that is currently under review is reworking GSA’s region-based structure to reduce redundancy and overhead.

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