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Outrage, Apologies At Hearing Into Federal Agency's Vegas Scandal

At a sometimes heated hearing today where members of the House got to express outrage, the man at the center of the General Services Administration scandal refused to testify.

Jeff Neely is the regional official who was in charge of a 2010 conference in Las Vegas that has been flagged for excessive spending and waste and led to the resignation of GSA's top administrator and the dismissal of several others. And this morning he asserted his Fifth Amendment rights in declining to answer questions.

Martha Johnson, who stepped down as GSA administrator because of the scandal, said she had no idea until well after the fact that the conference "had evolved into a raucous, extravagant, arrogant, self congratulatory event that ultimately belittled federal workers." She again apologized to the nation.

We posted about the hearing before it began and updated this post while it was happening. Later, NPR's Carrie Johnson will be reporting about it for All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

Our original post and earlier updates:

The regional commissioner who planned a lavish General Services Administration conference that was so "excessive and wasteful" that GSA's top administrator had to resign and several other officials lost their jobs is among those due at a 1:30 p.m. ET hearing being held by the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform.

That regional official, Jeff Neely, is expected to invoke his right to remain silent.

The committee says it will be streaming the hearing here. This morning, committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) complained on Fox News that while Neely has been put on administrative leave, he's still being paid.

Among others due at the witness table this afternoon are Martha Johnson, who resigned from her post as GSA's adminstrator (the agency's top job) just before a scathing report about the 2010 conference in Las Vegas was released from GSA's inspector general.

The agency, which manages the federal government's buildings and real estate, incurred "excessive pre-conference planning, catering, and other costs, as well as ... luxury accommodations" that were "incompatible with its obligation to be a responsible steward of the public's money," its inspector general concluded.

We'll keep an eye on the hearing and update this post with news from it later today.

Some examples of the excesses associated with the conference, attended by about 300 people:

— "$146,527.05 on catered food and beverages."

— Travel expenses for planning alone "totaled $100,405.37."

— "During scouting trips, GSA 'VIPs' were shown upgraded suites that they received as a perk for GSA contracting with the M Resort."

— "GSA spent $6,325 on commemorative coins 'rewarding' all conference participants."

— One "networking reception" along cost $31,208, or more than $100 per person.

— GSA spent in all, $686,247 on "travel, catering and vendors" during the four-day conference.

Issa's committee has been posting videos and other evidence of the waste inside GSA, including this "mashup."

Update at 3 p.m. ET. Possible Bribes And Kickbacks.

The latest Associated Press report on the hearing begins with this:

"The General Services Administration inspector general said Monday that he's investigating possible bribery and kickbacks in the agency, as a central figure in a GSA spending scandal asserted his right to remain silent at a congressional hearing.

"Inspector general Brian Miller, responding to a question at the hearing, said, 'We do have other ongoing investigations, including all sorts of improprieties, including bribes, including possible kickbacks.' "

Update at 2:45 p.m. ET. Concerns About Retaliation:

GSA Inspector Brian Miller just testified that during his investigation he ran across employees who were concerned about retaliation if they cooperated with him. One witness "was extremely afraid," he said, "that even in her new job she would experience retaliation."

Update at 2:04 p.m. ET. Neely Declines To Say Anything:

Asserting that he's been advised by his counsel not to answer any questions, Neely has declined to answer any questions from Issa — including whether he attended the conference and even whether he is currently employed by GSA.

He has also declined to answer a question about whether he would be willing to answer any questions.

In her opening statement, Johnson said she again apologizes for what happened and that "I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my employment" at GSA.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.