Cause of Action Exposes OGE’s Failure to Act in GSA Spending Scandal
Watchdog Organization Calls on White House to Evaluate Careless Investigation and Lack of Oversight
WASHINGTON – Cause of Action released an investigative memorandum today detailing how the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) failed to detect ethics abuses by the General Services Administration (GSA), now infamous for the 2010 Western Regional Conference in Las Vegas that cost taxpayers $822,751.
The memorandum, The Office of Government Ethics Failed to Prevent Scandal at the General Services Administration, discloses years of mismanagement at OGE and waste at GSA that went unchecked until now.
“The enormous waste of taxpayer dollars by GSA over the last several years could have been prevented had GSA IG David Miller had the authority to investigate ethics abuses instead of the OGE maintaining that authority and simply ignoring its duties,” said Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action (CoA). “Warning signs presented to OGE officials were ignored, and an OGE investigation bafflingly found GSA to be in compliance with ethics rules in 2010 during the time GSA employees were engaged in conflicts of interest and wasteful spending that violate both the letter and spirit of the Standards of Official Conduct.”
In addition to highlighting the failures of the OGE investigation, the memorandum also highlights several key gaps in the administration of the ethics program at the GSA.
“Quite obviously the GSA was running amuck with taxpayer dollars, and yet no one at the GSA seemed concerned. Perhaps this is because the person who should have been sounding the alarm—the Designated Agency Ethics Officer—didn’t exist; in fact, that position within the GSA sat vacant for at least four years,” said Epstein.
The memorandum is based upon the findings from CoA’s April 19, 2012, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to OGE asking for “all documents referring or relating to any Office of Government Ethics investigation into or determination made regarding the GSA’s compliance with the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch between January 1, 2009 and the present.”
Some of the key findings include:
- In November 2010, one month after the Western Regional Conference, OGE reported to GSA Inspector General Brian Miller, that “GSA’s ethics program appears to be effectively administered and in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies”. In fact, OGE considered GSA to have “model practices” in place.
- OGE had both specific and prior knowledge that significant ethics risks existed at the GSA. GSA failed to fill a Designated Agency Ethics Officer (DAEO) position from 2007 to at least 2010. According to The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, all agencies are required to have a DAEO to supply ethics advice to employees. GSA has eleven regional offices with no full-time ethics officials.
- According to documents produced by OGE, GSA’s ethics program is principally administered by eleven regional ethics offices. Yet OGE reviewed only five of GSA’s eleven regional offices for compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies.
- OGE lacks the oversight and accountability of an Inspector General. Any mismanagement or fraud within the Office of Government Ethics is subject to review only by OGE itself. OGE missed allegations of waste, fraud and mismanagement by GSA that occurred before and during OGE’s investigation of GSA. GSA’s ethics abuses were investigated and later documented by its own IG, not the OGE.
“In response to our findings we are sending a letter to the White House calling for the President to consider the cost to taxpayers involved in keeping the OGE as opposed to strengthening the roles of sitting Inspectors General,” continued Epstein.
The letter, addressed to President Obama, reads in part, “Given your commitment to ethics and transparency in government, we recommend that you have the Office of Management and Budget consider whether the OGE should be abolished and its authority transferred to the Inspectors General, who, as is the case with GSA IG Brian Miller, have the authority to address issues of waste, fraud, and mismanagement in the Federal Government.”
The full memorandum and letter to White House can be viewed here.