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FCC & The GSA Scandal

David Foley, deputy commissioner of the GSA’s Public Buildings Service (on administrative leave as of 4/9/12) and (until recently) deputy to Robert Peck, formerly of FCC

You probably have read more than you ever wanted to know about the recent GSA Las Vegas conference scandal. For those who have been on Mars for the past week, USA Today reports

General Services Administration is resigning and two top aides have been fired over an $835,000 training conference in Las Vegas that included a mind reader and commemorative coins.

"The president was informed before his trip to South Korea, and he was outraged by the excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors and disregard for taxpayer dollars," said White House chief of staff Jack Lew.

Obama "called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable given that these actions were irresponsible and entirely inconsistent with the expectations that he has set as president," Lew said.

However, there are indications that these lavish conferences may have begun under Bush 43:

The Obama administration has come out and criticized the shocking spending and is now pointing the finger at the Bush administration for the problem. A White House official has said that in 2004, the conference cost $93,000; in 2006, the cost had ballooned to $323, 855; and by 2008, it hit $655, 025.

So what is the FCC connection?

  1. Robert Peck, until recently Commissioners of the Public Building Service mysteriously worked in the Office of the Managing Director in the past where he bore much of the brunt of the Republican criticism of the Portals selection for FCC’s current lease
  2. This scandal was uncovered by GSA’s Inspector General. FCC leadership, under all recent chairmen, need not fear such sleuthing since the FCC Inspector General constantly ignores his statutory charter and focuses on issues that couldn’t embarrass the “8th Floor”.

Robert Peck’s bio has disappeared from the GSA website, but here is what it used to say:

Robert A. Peck serves as the Commissioner of Public Buildings for GSA. He was appointed to this position on August 19, 2009.As Commissioner, Peck is responsible for the nationwide asset management, design, construction, leasing, building management and disposal for 375 million square feet of government-owned and leased space, accommodating 1.1 million federal workers. Additionally, he oversees annual revenue of more than $9.4 billion and a workforce of 6,750.

Most recently, Peck served as a managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle, where he advised corporations, governments, and nonprofit institutions on real estate portfolio strategy and on public-private, mixed-use developments. He previously served as Commissioner of Public Buildings during the Clinton administration.

His prior federal experience includes positions at the Office of Management and Budget, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Federal Communications Commission. On the U.S. Senate staff, he was associate counsel to the Committee on Environment and Public Works and Chief of Staff to the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He has also been a land-use and real estate lawyer, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and vice president for public affairs at the American Institute of Architects.

Peck served as a Special Forces officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is a past president of the D.C. Preservation League, a former appointee to the D.C. Board of Education and has served on numerous other public and nonprofit boards.

Peck holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania, a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School and was a Visiting Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

The FCC website search engine has no information on Mr. Peck, perhaps because his service at FCC was in the early Hundt Chairmanship when the website was just coming into creation. (FCC alums recall that Hundt’s predecessor brought FCC touch tone phones to replace dial ones and a desktop computer system using VT-100 “smart terminal” clones that was obsolete upon arrival.) I recall speaking with Peck several times when he mysteriously came from The Hill to take a top job in the Managing Director’s Office. He seemed like a nice enough guy who asked a lot of good questions about FCC, although I can’t recall what topic I was working with him on.

The Republican criticism of the FCC Portals move often includes Peck as a bad guy as shown in this article from our local right wing free newspaper. However, when I was in the former Field Operations Bureau, now Enforcement Bureau, the most secret project I ever saw was covert measurements of new location for FCC headquarters that were made at the direction of the Chairman’s Office - involving multiple chairmen from both parties. The purpose of these measurements was to use FOB’s minimal radio monitoring capability at headquarters as an excuse to eliminate certain sites and favor others. So one had to know the spectrum characteristics of each site in order to “tilt” the RFP to favor/disfavor certain ones. This was a bipartisan game during the near 2 decade search for a new site after the Rosslyn site (later leased to USA Today, which has since moved elsewhere) went down during the early Reagan Administration.

Mr. Peck was an example of politically connected people who were cycled through high FCC management positions to groom them for higher positions in other agencies. This has also been a bipartisan practice at “independent” FCC to do such favors for whoever is in the White House and has further muddied FCC management capability and the lowered the morale of well motivated career civil servants.

On the 2nd point, readers may recall that the dismal state of the FCC Inspector General’s office for the past decade or so has been a recurring theme. The GSA scandal was uncovered by GSA’s Inspector General. Both the GSA IG and FCC’s IG have the same exact basic responsibility: They are both obligated by 5 USC App. 4(a)(2)

to review existing and proposed legislation and regulations relating to programs and operations of such establishment and to make recommendations in the semiannual reports required by section 5 (a) concerning the impact of such legislation or regulations on the economy and efficiency in the administration of programs and operations administered or financed by such establishment...

The only difference is that the FCC IG is appointed by the Commission upon recommendation by the Chairman and the GSA IG, like most major agency IGs is appointed by the President with Senate confirmation. But the obligations are the same.

While the current FCC IG is not an 8th Floor intimate like all his predecessors, he has chosen to continue their practice of focusing almost entirely on external fraud issues involving the Universal Service Fund that are within his charter and avoiding issues of internal FCC operations that would appear to be required by 5 USC App. 4(a)(2) but which might be embarrassing to the 8th Floor. Thus do not expect any IG reports on what were the root causes of the GPS/LightSquared flap or the Channel 51 controversy. A functional IG could help FCC learn from the past, but this seems unlikely to happen soon. So if FCC had a GSA-like scandal, the FCC IG would never be the one to reveal it. (Actually, FCC discretionary appropriation - the amount in excess of fixed costs such as salaries and rent -is so small that FCC could never spend as much money as GSA did.)

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