WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional interns often work out of storage areas or even in hallways, but the General Services Administration interns fared much better.
About 120 interns and 20 GSA executives attended a five-day conference for the interns in May 2010 at a Palm Springs, Calif., resort, according to information provided by the GSA inspector general to a House committee.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday released a partial transcript of the internal watchdog's interview with a GSA employee who attended the conference. The panel is one of three congressional committees investigating wasteful spending at the agency in charge of federal buildings and supplies.
The employee, whose name was redacted, said the executives used one of their tricks to get around a $71 daily expense allowance, by concocting an awards ceremony that included light refreshments, or finger food.
"And I estimated out of my mind that they spent $100 a person on finger food, and nobody had to deduct it off of their voucher," the employee said.
"Because it wasn't considered a meal?" asked an investigator.
"Yeah," the employee said, noting they disguised meals as "finger food.:
"They had pasta. How do you eat pasta with your fingers? They had a carver. How do you pick up prime rib with your fingers? They had oysters on the half shell. Yeah, you can pick them up, but why are we eating that?"
The committees began investigating GSA spending after the inspector general reported earlier this month that the agency spent about $823,000 on an October 2010 conference at a Las Vegas resort. The committees are now looking beyond the Las Vegas conference at other wasteful spending by the agency.
"GSA has been spreading the taxpayers' wealth, providing luxurious junkets not only for high-level executives but for its interns as well," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the Transportation committee.
"Interns in congressional offices often work out of small storage areas or spaces cleared out in a hallway - they do not get sent to resorts and spas for a week on the taxpayers' dime."
According to the transcript of the interview, the GSA employee said he and his colleagues would joke about the award ceremonies.
He said a colleague would say to others, "You guys know why we're doing this, don't you?"
Someone would reply "We have to have awards because that's how we have...
"And everyone says 'food.'"
" It's a joke," the employee said. "It is a joke."