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November 30, 2015

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Nevada lawmakers don’t want GSA scandal to put Las Vegas in bad light


Richard Brian

The M Resort, shown in this file photo, is in the news after the head of the General Services Administration resigned over criticism of a lavish agency conference at the Henderson hotel and casino.

Click to enlarge photo

Martha Johnson, head of the government's General Services Administration announced her resignation Monday, April 2, 2012, after an internal government investigator found that her agency had spent too much money on a 2010 conference for 300 agency workers at the M Resort in Henderson.

M Resort

Despite a weak local economy, the M Resort, pictured last week, opened in March to big fanfare and big crowds, some attracted by generous casino promotions. Since then, the property at St. Rose Parkway and Las Vegas Boulevard has tinkered with offers and games, scaling back on some of its higher-paying machines. Launch slideshow »
Dean Heller

Dean Heller

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

The latest Vegas-centric scandal here isn’t going to go away quickly.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica announced this week that he will conduct an official inquiry into the General Services Administration conference at the M Resort in Henderson that resulted in the head of the agency resigning. He said he will evaluate whether it’s part of a trend of government overspending.

The notice of the hearing, tentatively scheduled for the week of April 16, is no great surprise: Committees in the Republican-led House have held scandal and impropriety-sniffing hearings on everything from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Department of Justice. Some, namely the Solyndra inquiry, have actually unearthed issues.

But while the negative attention on the Obama administration’s practices might be a good thing for the Republican Party generally, it puts Nevada Republicans in an awkward situation.

On Wednesday, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller wrote a letter to Mica asking him to make sure he focuses his interrogation on the GSA, not Nevada.

“I agree that the GSA’s actions are inexcusable,” Heller wrote. “However, while you investigate this matter, it should be noted that it was not the location that caused the misuse of taxpayer funds. The convention services my state offers are the best in the world, and no town in Nevada should be singled out due to the poor judgment by the GSA.”

Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid has been trying to draw a similar distinction since news surfaced of the GSA’s pricey Las Vegas convention.

“Las Vegas is the best place in the world to hold a convention, and it’s understandably why people want to have business meetings here,” Reid said in a statement Monday after the GSA chief’s resignation was announced. “However, this situation demonstrates a complete lack of common sense.”

Now Reid and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley are going a step further, expressing concerns with the investigation and accusing the Republican congressman who called the hearings of a “politically motivated” dig.

“It is very clear that a Florida congressman is trying to embarrass Las Vegas because Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world,” Reid said. “Congressman Mica is failing to do his job as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is to pass the highway jobs bill that will support 12,800 Nevada jobs and 2.8 million (jobs) nationwide. ... Instead of trying to embarrass Las Vegas, he should work to pass this legislation.”

“If this had happened in Kansas, do you think they’d be holding a similar show hearing in Topeka? Of course not,” Berkley said in a statement. “The misuse of taxpayer funds was outrageous, and President Barack Obama should be commended for taking swift action to punish those irresponsible actors. However, this attack on the greatest tourist destination on earth will deter business, kill jobs and hurt our economy.”

The Obama administration has maintained that it responded swiftly when details of the convention came to light as part of an inspector general’s report released Monday.

Former GSA head Martha Johnson fired senior administrators who had been responsible for overseeing the convention planning before tendering her own resignation over the affair.

But Mica sees the episode as a unique only because it became such a public scandal and alleges that the Obama administration, the GSA and its Public Buildings Service in particular — its Western Division employees were the ones being feted at the M Resort — have been playing with taxpayer dollars elsewhere.

“This agency may have been hoping that everything that happened in Vegas would stay in Vegas,” Mica said, complaining that the administration had been “stonewalling” committee requests to produce their travel budgets since December. “This agency is sitting on thousands of mismanaged, underutilized and vacant properties. Excess and underutilized federal properties cost Americans $1.7 billion to operate every year.”

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