The GSA meeting scandal has become a lightning rod for bi-partisan outrage. Both the House and the Senate have convened committee hearings to scold the agency and promote new plans for holding its spending in check. As an aside, we wonder if the costs of the hearings will outweigh the excesses of the ill-conceived meeting that prompted them. But that’s another story.
In testimony before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Brian Miller, the GSA Inspector General, said that Jeff Neely, public buildings commissioner for GSA’s Region 9, fostered a culture of “putting people down” who objected to his spending decisions. “Spending, Miller said, “was part of the culture of Region 9.”
In addition, Miller’s office found that thousands of dollars of equipment — iPods, gift cards and other items — Neely’s Region 9 office bought for an employee awards program went missing or was stolen. Miller said his office tracked one of the missing iPods to Neely’s daughter.
Legislators have been elbowing one another to be the first with legislation designed to hold GSA spending in check. Here’s our suggestion for a better approach. Why not enforce current agency policies by applying proven automated transaction analytics to all agency expense transactions? That way, improper spending can be flagged at the time a transaction is executed rather than weeks or months later. It’ll save everyone – especially taxpayers – time, money and aggravation.
DoD, Census, and Education already use Big Data analytics from Oversight to identify improper payments and out-of-policy spending. These applications would have identified circumstances such as Region 9’s spending for conferences by recognizing in real-time that these line items were significantly higher when measured against similar items purchased from other regions. Or that items like iPods constituted an unusual purchase. Or that travel expenses from one commissioner were significantly higher than those of the other commissioners.
It doesn’t take new legislation or executive orders to give every agency the type of real-time actionable insight that DoD, Census and Education already employ on a daily basis. All it takes is automated continuous analysis at the transaction level – something Oversight has been delivering since 2003.
The GSA scandal involves some really bad decision-making and even worse guardianship of public funds. Worst of all, it serves to further erode public confidence in the federal government as a whole. Flogging the agency publicly may make for good visuals and practical politics, but the best solution is the one that ensures that policies already in place are inspected, analyzed and enforced. Oversight Systems’ automated continuous transaction analytics should be a critical part of that solution.