An investigation by the inspector general of the General Services Administration found rampant abuse of an employee awards program of the agency’s Pacific Rim region, the same region that has come under fire for spending more than $800,000 on a Las Vegas training conference for 300 employees.
The report on the “Hats Off” employee recognition program, obtained by The Washington Post, found numerous violations of agency directives, theft and misuse of government purchasing cards in the maintenance of the awards program.
The inspector general found “significant control weaknesses in the Hats Off Program.”
The report found that in fiscal year 2009, Pacific Rim employees received $256 in awards and Public Buildings Service employees in the region averaged $328.
The budget for the program rose dramatically in recent years. In 2008, employees at the Pacific Rim region, which oversees federal property in California, Arizona, Nevada and the Pacific Islands, received $47,012 in gifts. The next year it increased to $211,842, then dropped to $134,596 by 2010. In 2011, the program issued $844 worth of awards.
Jeffrey E. Neely became acting commissioner of the region in January 2009, having been public buildings commissioner. Neely was placed on administrative leave for planning the Vegas training conference. Expenditures for the awards program dropped dramatically after the inspector general began his investigation.
The findings in the report include:
? Employees associated with administering the Hats Off Program were in the top 10 of recipients.
? Instances of employees swapping awards with each other and supervisors accepting items from employees.
? One employee, whose name was redacted from the report, gave “out 635 awards to 113 individuals, totaling $3,175.”
? The Pacific Rim region maintained an inadequate inventory system and meager security on the storage room that held the gift items.
? Total employee awards exceeded GSA’s 4 percent cap on employee annual salaries. Awards for Region 9 employees also exceeded GSA’s limit of $99-per-item limit on gifts.
Five government-issued purchasing cards were used to make purchases for the online “Hats Off” store, the inspector general found. In four instances, holders split the purchases to circumvent the cards’ single-purchase limit, a violation of agency regulations.