Senator vows probe of lavish federal gathering
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal congressional panel will investigate a lavish federal conference that featured a spoof video joking about wasteful spending and predicting it would never face an internal probe, a Senate leader said on Sunday.
"We are going to have a hearing as to what actually happened here," Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. He called the five-day General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas, which rang up a tab of $823,000, "an absolutely outrageous expenditure of taxpayers' money."
Durbin heads the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that has oversight authority of the GSA.
There was no immediate word on whom Durbin would call to testify before his panel. But a Democratic aide said the hearing had been previously set to examine the budget request of the GSA, which manages federal buildings and purchases of government supplies.
The GSA's office of inspector general last week released a yearlong investigative report into the 2010 Las Vegas conference for 300 workers, which quickly exploded into an election-year spending scandal.
The fallout intensified with release of a spoof video from the gathering in which a federal employee performs a rap song about wasteful spending and jokes he will never face internal investigation.
The video, which won a talent contest at the GSA conference, was put on YouTube.com by House of Representatives Oversight and Investigations Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican.
Issa criticized President Barack Obama's administration for failing to expose the wasteful spending earlier, even though top GSA officials were informed of the inspector general's investigation nearly a year ago.
Durbin, an Obama ally, did not directly respond when asked on "Meet the Press" if the Obama administration was slow to react.
Instead, Durbin said he was pleased that GSA administrator Martha Johnson had resigned last week. She did so after the inspector general labeled the conference "excessive and wasteful" and said it violated the GSA's own policies. Two other senior GSA officials were dismissed.
Later on Sunday, a senior aide said Durbin believes that the Obama administration "acted swiftly" after learning of the high-cost conference, and that GSA "quickly implemented changes to prevent this from happening again."
The inspector general report cited the catered parties in officials' hotel rooms as among questionable expenses and said $130,000 worth of scouting trips before the conference were wasteful. It also cited a $75,000 contract to an outside vendor for a team-building exercise that included the purchase of 24 bicycles.
The affair is certain to spur fresh Republican attacks on Obama's spending record, which they hope to make a key issue in the November 6 congressional and presidential elections.
The federal government is closing in a fourth straight year of $1 trillion-plus deficits, with a nearly $1 trillion deficit projected for next year.
(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro and David Lawder; Editing by Bill Trott and Christopher Wilson)
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