Martha Johnson, who resigned on Monday amid a spending scandal, was the first confirmed General Services Administration chief after a string of four acting administrators. The last of those acting administrators, Jim Williams, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp that while there should be an investigation to determine who is responsible, there is nothing wrong with the agency as a whole.
On Monday, Johnson fired Public Buildings Service head Bob Peck and senior advisor Stephen Leeds before turning in her own resignation after the release of a scathing inspector general report. Four regional commisionners have also been placed on administrative leave, and Williams pointed to them as the real culprits.
“This is one where the four regional commissioners, who frankly knew what the right thing to do was, did not,” he said. “Why you had to have some sort of best-practices conference with only four regions in the Public Buildings Service is beyond me. It looks like there were people who steered this who simply tried to do everything they could to make it the way they wanted it, as opposed to following the rules.”
Williams called both Johnson and Peck “honorable people.”
“You have to look at: What is the chain of authority here? The regional commissioners, it’s not clear who exactly they were accountable to in this regard,” he said. “Like most things in Washington, the question was when did [Johnson and Peck] find out about this, what did they find out and what did they do about it? It’s possible they should have done more, and that’s why they were let go.”
During his tenure, Williams said he had a lot of information about only some conferences, like the annual GSA Training Conference and Expo. One of the oversight problems with the Las Vegas conference may have been that since it involved only four regions, details may not have crossed a national administrator’s desk.
Reports that GSA employees repeatedly asked planners to make the Las Vegas conference “over the top” did not represent GSA culture as a whole, Williams said.
“I think the ‘over the top’ was in regard to this particular conference put on by these four regional commissioners. That is certainly not the spirit of the GSA employees. It is to protect taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Williams added that he feared the reins would be tightened too much as a result of the scandal.
“I always worry when you then put in too many internal controls, then you slow down the ability to accomplish the mission,” he said.
Despite his worries, Williams said the new acting administator Dan Tangherlini was a smart administrator and a great choice to lead the GSA.
In a letter to GSA employees, Tangherlini said that he had already canceled a number of conferences that involved only internal staff, would review all other conferences with significant spending proposals and would re-evaluate conference and travel policies.