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GSA Chief Back On Hot Seat As Pundits Weigh Fed Scandals

Government Services Agency chief Dan Tangherlini was in for another uncomfortable day of grilling, this time in a less public venue than his earlier Capitol Hill hearings.

He is set to meet with "key lawmakers" today to discuss the scandal that has engulfed the GSA. To get a sense of what those legislators might say behind closed doors, you need only sample what they've said in the relative decorum of public hearings.

"What's next?" an exasperated Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked of GSA Inspector General Brian Miller, who has been investigating Tangherlini's agency. Durbin said he was "outraged and embarrassed" by revelations that, as The Associated Press sums up "GSA officials in Western states went on taxpayer-financed junkets to Hawaii, South Pacific islands, California's Napa Valley and Palm Springs; stayed in resort hotel suites, and threw lavish parties":

[Miller's] April 2 report detailed how four Western regions partied at their Las Vegas conference in 2010, which featured a clown, a mind-reader, a team-building exercise to build bicycles and a rap video making fun of the spending.

Miller previously said that employees would not blow the whistle on the misconduct because they believed they would be "squashed like a bug" for doing so.

Of course, the GSA revelations come amid the even-more salacious news that Secret Service agents hired prostitutes in Colombia as they were supposed to be laying the security groundwork for President Obama ahead of a regional summit. Three of eleven Secret Service personnel implicated in the scandal were fired on Wednesday.

The dual scandals prompted Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak to sample opinion from federal workers in D.C., some of whom are literally or figuratively hiding their ID badges these days:

"I just don't want people giving me the looks, okay?" said a worker who hid her badge, but gave herself away with the walking sneakers and an insulated lunch sack over her shoulder. "This federal government that everyone's hearing about this week? That's not the federal government I know."


I spent the day hunting the federal workers in their super-secret stomping grounds: Federal Center. Federal Triangle. Food carts.

Their usual giveaway — the ID badge hanging around their neck — seemed a little less prominent, that's how I found out some of them are stashing theirs just to avoid the conversation I was trying to start with them.

Brian Montopoli at CBS News opined that the hearings, ostensibly about waste and abuse in the federal government, were more about political posturing:

After all, any viewer of the hearings so far might be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, was being accomplished with comments like this one, from Republican Rep. Trey Goudy, in reference to a $75,000 GSA team-building exercise: "Working for the government is a sacred trust, which you have blown. So instead of a team building exercise, you might want to investigate a trust building exercise, 'cause you have lost it."

Goudy was far from alone in making statements like this: A number of lawmakers from both parties seemed more focused on expressing their outrage over the GSA's behavior than on engaging in a dispassionate investigation of what actually took place. And while their anger may not have been manufactured, they were certainly aware the cameras were rolling.

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, also has weighed in with his outrage, and a solution of sorts:

"I'd clean house," Romney told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday.

"The right thing to do is to remove people who have violated the public trust and have put their play time and their personal interests ahead of the interests of the nation," Romney said.

At The Daily Beast, Michelle Cottle suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that it was high time for a high-profile scandal – or, in this case, a twofer:

God knows a sleaze-addicted media and public had to wait long enough. This president is well over three years into his term, and, until this month, the man's only brush with real scandal (as opposed to fevered conspiracy theories regarding his birth certificate and religion) involved the possible preferential treatment of a solar-cell manufacturer. I'm sorry, but it's tough to gin up too much outrage over that, even in our outrage-happy political climate.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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