Ten days after ABC and CBS's morning shows covered a growing scandal at Barack Obama's General Services Administration (GSA), NBC's Today show finally discovered the "lavish" example of government waste, devoting a full report to the segment on Monday's program.
Reporter Lisa Myers described the investigation into the waste of close to a million dollars at a GSA conference in Las Vegas. After completely ignoring the story for a week and a half, the Today correspondent conceded, "A government official taking the Fifth is not the kind of imagery any White House would hope for." She added that "top TSA officials appointed by President Obama" will have to explain why the administrator behind the swanky conference still received a $9,000 bonus.
Myers featured two Republicans denouncing the GSA excess, which included a mind reader and $1200 for shuttles so that staffers could party on the Vegas strip. Representative Darrell Issa attacked the "culture of waste."
Myers made sure to point out that the "White House called the spending spree a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars and said decisive action has been taken."
It's a step in the right direction that Today is finally covering this story, but why (at least) ten days late? ABC's Good Morning America featured it on April 6th. CBS This Morning got to it back on April 4th.
NBC's Nightly News, unlike Today, got to the government waste on April 2. After a gap of 11 days, anchor Brian Williams updated, "In addition to a lavish taxpayer-financed trip to Las Vegas, we learned today about a second conference, this one for GSA interns flown in from around the country to Palm Springs, California."
A transcript of the April 16 segment, which aired at 7:13am EDT, follows:
MATT LAUER: A congressional hearing is set to get under way today into the General Services Administration's spending practices. This stems from a lavish conference in Las Vegas and the official at the center of the scandal plans to assert his right to remain silent. NBC's senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers is in Washington with the latest. Lisa, good morning.
NBC GRAPHIC: What Happens in Vegas...GSA Spending Spree Scandal Headed to Capitol Hill
LISA MYERS: Good morning, Matt. A government official taking the Fifth is not the kind of imagery any White House would hope for. What's more, top TSA officials appointed by President Obama will have to explain why, after they learned of a lavish conference in Las Vegas, they nevertheless gave the official in charge a bonus. The fun-filled Las Vegas conference that investigators say cost taxpayers almost $1 million, included rap videos, a mind reader and $1200 for shuttles to take GSA staffers to party on the Vegas strip. The GSA official in charge was Jeff Neely.
JEFF NEELY: I think I pretty much promised to deliver an over-the-top, unforgettable, team-building experience. How'd we do on that one?
MYERS: But Neely has told congressional investigators he'll take the Fifth today, rather than answer questions.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-California): Taxpayers need to know that what they see in those videos is, in fact, to a great extent, the tip of the iceberg. There's a culture of waste that when people misbehave, they're seldom punished for it.
MYERS: E-mails show that even after senior GSA officials were alerted to excessive spending in Vegas, administer Martha Johnson personally approved a $9,000 bonus for Neely and Vegas was only part of the story. An even longer conference was held in 2010 in Palm Springs, California for GSA interns. The awards dinner cost taxpayers as much as $100 a head. It was held at this resort, where the lounge had been named one of Playboy magazine's 20 greatest bars.
REP. JEFF DENHAM (R-California): It's gotta stop. It's a wasteful abuse of taxpayer dollars.
MYERS: Investigators also found other outrageous costs. Five GSA officials went to Hawaii for a week for a one-hour ribbon cutting. $330,000 to move one official from Denver to Hawaii And GSA invented awards. Because if there were awards at an event, they could stick taxpayers with the tab for food. They called one, the jackass award.
STEVE ELLIS (Taxpayers for Common Sense): Americans across the country have been tightening their belts, and when they see that the people who are being paid with their taxpayer dollars are squandering it and wasting it, it just increases people's contempt for government.
MYERS: We reached out to Neely's lawyer, who did not return our calls. The White House has called the spending spree a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars and said decisive action has been taken. So far, three GSA officials, including the administrator, have been filed or resigned and five more are on administrative leave