Who's a big spender? | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Who's a big spender?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 12:56 PM

The Republican governors have rolled  out their TV ad attacking former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross as a free-spending liberal stooge of Barack Obama. It's a tag that doesn't fit very well on the Blue Dog, though I guess he did support some Obama stimulus spending that kept the country from an even worse recession. For which we should all be thankful.

The Democrats aren't taking the GOP hit lying down. Instant fire-back at the Republican establishment's favored candidate, Asa Hutchinson.

Congressman Hutchinson has a reckless history when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. As a Washington bureaucrat, agencies under his supervision sprung for parties and artwork to the tune of nearly $1 million and Hutchinson regularly used DEA jets that were supposed to be used for frontline drug fighting efforts.

After 28 years of running for statewide office and losing, Arkansans know they can’t trust Congressman Hutchinson with their tax dollars.
 
The details provided are entertaining:

DEMOCRATIC PARTY NEWS RELEASE

TSA, under the leadership of Asa Hutchinson, “spent nearly $500,000 on a banquet for employees, which included $1,500 for three cheese displays.”

“In November 2003, the Transportation Security Administration, which was under Hutchinson, spent nearly $500,000 on a banquet for employees, which included $1,500 for three cheese displays.” (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 01/15/06)

More specifically, “TSA spent approximately $461,745 to host the first annual TSA Awards Program. The costs included lodging, transportation, and per diem allowances for award recipients and their guests; services provided by a private events planning firm; food and beverages; audio visual support; and, production of awards, programs, and photos of award recipients. Although TSA obtained competitive bids for some of the services needed for the award program, it did not solicit competitive bids when selecting a site for the awards program, and did not compare the total costs associated with different site selections or ceremony configurations.”

The banquet took place at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC. “Food and beverages at the Grand Hyatt, including two coffee breaks and a reception following the ceremony, cost $47,852, or ten percent of the total awards program costs. TSA said that the reception did not include lunch, and that the ‘finger foods’ served were not enough to feed all attendees. Nonetheless, food for the reception cost $33,183, or about $33 per person.

While perhaps standard to hotel catering, many of the items served during the coffee breaks and at the reception were costly. For example, for the coffee breaks, TSA paid $64 for each gallon of coffee and $3.75 for each soft drink. For the reception, TSA paid $1,850 for seven sheet cakes, and $1,500 for 3 cheese displays. For both coffee breaks and the reception, TSA paid $7,975 in banquet service charges.” (“Assessment of Expenditures Related to the First Annual Transportation Security Administration Awards Program and Executive Performance Awards,” by the DHS Office of Inspector General, 09/04, OIG-04-46)

TSA, under the leadership of Asa Hutchinson, spent approximately $500,000 on artwork and silk plants for a 79-person TSA operations center. The operations center included “a 4,200 square-foot fitness center with a towel laundry service for the 79 federal employees located there.”

“In February 2002, TSA officially assumed responsibility for civil aviation security functions. One step that TSA took to fulfill its mission was to create a crisis management operations (CMO) directorate to prevent and respond to threats against all modes of transportation. TSA assigned a CMO employee to manage the project of locating a building, securing the lease, and developing the space to house the CMO. The project manager located a space to share with the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), which sought a location for its Systems Operations Control Division (SOCD). In February 2003, TSA leased an undeveloped office building to house both the CMO and the SOCD. At the time, the building was simply a shell without interior walls, floors, ceilings, electrical wiring, furniture, or equipment.”

“In June 2003, approximately one month before the TSOC/SOCD building opened, the project manager decided to decorate the facility.” (“Irregularities in the Development of the Transportation Security Operations Center,” by the DHS Office of Inspector General, 03/05, OIG-05-18)

The project manager “bought $500,000 worth of artwork, silk plants and other decorations” from a contractor and “required the company to revise the invoices to cover up what was being bought.” (Federal Times, 01/30/06)

More specifically, “The project manager and the facility operating officer improperly purchased decorative and miscellaneous items totaling $500,000, most of which was spent on furnishing the facility with art and silk plants. They charged the purchase to the construction contract and kept it hidden from the real estate contracting officer responsible for that contract. Representatives from the vendor, a tool company who supplied the art and silk flowers, said that when the tool company submitted a single invoice describing the goods as ‘enhancements,’ the facility operations officer ordered the company to retract the invoice and reissue the amount in three separate invoices with a single descriptive line, ‘equipment and tools,’ thus concealing the true nature of the charges. The tool company had to ‘manually construct’ the invoices because its accounting system could not modify invoices once they had been issued. From the three invoices, $252,392 was attributable to the purchase of artwork; $29,032 to an art consultant and an assistant; $30,085 to the purchase of silk plants; and, $13,861 to the acquisition of lamps and miscellaneous equipment. The vendor added a 20% markup of $65,074 and a credit for future purchases of $26,243. In addition to these charges, the vendor received $83,313 in overpayments because the facility operations officer insisted that the vendor submit an invoice before final costs had been determined. The facility operations officer never reconciled the final costs against the estimate or attempted to recoup the over payment.

The project manager, facility operations officer, and a TSOC employee routinely violated TSA purchase card (P-card) policies. In contravention of P-card policy, they purchased furniture and personal items, such as loveseats, armoires, leather briefcases, and coffee pots. They discussed with the vendor ways to circumvent the rule that forbids purchases exceeding a $2,500 limit and that bans ‘split transactions,’ a method for concealing purchases over $2,500 by splitting them into several credit card transactions. The P-cards were used in ten purchases that ranged in value from $3,350 to $47,449. This required 58 separate credit card transactions to complete. Also, the P-card holders failed to maintain logs recording all transactions as required by federal P-card regulations. Last, the project manager, the approving official for the P-card holders, failed to monitor purchases as required by TSA policy.”

In addition, “the project manager made procurement and construction decisions that appear wasteful. For example, the project manager designed offices and workstations that were larger than TSA or federal standards permit; provided television monitors with commercial cable service in 45 of 55 offices; equipped seven kitchens with numerous kitchen appliances, such as refrigerators, microwave ovens, icemakers, and dishwashers; and developed a 4,200 square-foot fitness center with a towel laundry service for the 79 federal employees located there. There was no documented justification or cost/benefit analysis supporting these expenditures. The real estate contracting officer objected to some of the amenities but was overridden by the project manager.” (“Irregularities in the Development of the Transportation Security Operations Center,” by the DHS Office of Inspector General, 03/05, OIG-05-18)

When Asa Hutchinson was DEA administrator he regularly used DEA jets, even though the jets “were supposed to be used for frontline drug-fighting efforts.”

“Every time DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson flew in one of the agency’s Lear jets to attend town meetings across the country, he rankled some senior officials, who believed Hutchinson should have taken commercial flights.”

“Some senior DEA officials…took issue with Hutchinson’s penchant for using the DEA’s Lear jets to attend meetings across the country.

Critics said the planes were supposed to be used for frontline drug-fighting efforts, not public-awareness campaigns. Previous DEA administrators have used commercial airlines, they said.

But Hutchinson said government policies allowed him to fly in the Lear jets for ‘security reasons or (if) there was an urgency getting somewhere.’

Hutchinson said he sometimes flew commercially.” (Copley News Service, 01/21/03)

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