Rand Paul Attacks Las Vegas Meetings

The GSA scandal continues to rage on Capitol Hill. The latest target isn't the government agency that organized the controversial meeting, however. It's the destination that hosted it.

Early this month, the GSA's Inspector General released a report in which it accused the agency of "excessive" spending at a 2010 meeting of government employees in Las Vegas. Although GSA chief Martha Johnson resigned over the accusations, and fired several GSA staffers, lawmakers continue to search for other scapegoats. Among them is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who last week asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate all government conferences held in Las Vegas.

The request followed an appearance on Fox News, during which Paul accused the travel industry of being in bed with Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"Apparently, the president had a policy that government employees were not supposed to be going to resort areas and Harry Reid wrote a letter in 2009 specifically asking that he exempt Las Vegas," Paul said. "I'm wondering if Harry Reid was specifically involved with allowing this conference to occur … We're borrowing $50,000 a day for our government. We're nearly bankrupt, and we're spending $800,000 in Las Vegas? There's something that doesn't pass the smell test … We are going to find out how much Harry Reid knows about this conference and whether or not he thinks it's a good government policy to be sending government employees from Washington [to Las Vegas]."

Paul said he plans to introduce a budget proposal this week that would cut the amount of travel money available to government employees by 50 percent.

In a response to Paul, the U.S. Travel Association called on Congress to punish individuals, not industries.

"Any member of Congress who thinks this issue is about a particular destination is missing the forest for the trees," said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. "Anytime, or in anyplace, that federal officials spend taxpayer dollars irresponsibly, it is an affront to the American people and the hardworking men and women of the travel industry. Congress should hold accountable those individuals who choose to flout the federal travel rules and regulations, and strengthen oversight so those rules are followed in every part of the United States."

Dow also said the federal government should conduct travel on the basis of necessity, cost and value provided to the taxpayer, which would not exclude any destination in the country from receiving government business.

"If Congress is serious about curbing wasteful government spending, they should encourage federal employees to seek the best value when traveling and to follow the rules when doing so," Dow continued. "Responsible and cost-effective government travel is a must, no matter where it occurs. Excessive government spending is wrong, no matter where it occurs. Congress should consider nothing else beyond these two principles when dealing with this issue — or they risk ostracizing one group of hardworking Americans in favor of another."