U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann bill targets GSA conference party

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann bill targets GSA conference party

May 9th, 2012 by Chris Carroll in Local - Breaking News

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Moments into a campaign speech at the Shoney's in Harriman, Tenn., last week, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann roasted the federal agency responsible for spending more than $800,000 on a four-day conference in Las Vegas that included a mind reader and a circus clown.

"How 'bout that GSA party?" the freshman Republican asked a packed room. "Well, for the record, I was not invited."

Fleischmann called the General Services Administration "bozos" before imploring his audience to check out his response to the controversy.

"We have got to stop wasting money," he said. "That's what my bill does."

Maybe not. Political science experts, House staffers and fellow legislators hinted that Fleischmann's Agency Conferences and Conventions Operating Under Necessary Transparency (ACCOUNT) Act won't be doing anything anytime soon.

Despite being introduced at a time when the GSA scandal grabbed headlines across the nation, Fleischmann's ACCOUNT Act has stalled in the GOP-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Nearly three weeks after its April 19 debut, committee spokesman Ali Ahmad said, the ACCOUNT Act hasn't been assigned a markup date, meaning committee members haven't scheduled a time to discuss, debate or amend it.

A bill typically must pass its assigned committee before reaching the House floor.

Under the ACCOUNT Act, the head of a federal agency who spends more than $25,000 on a conference would be required to certify that conference as necessary to the agency's "core function," Fleischmann has said. Details of the conference would have to be posted on the agency website within 30 days after the conference, including a summary of the conference's purpose, total cost and cost per employee attending.

As of Tuesday morning, the ACCOUNT Act had 15 co-sponsors.

"That's not much - realistically, we're talking about 3 percent of the [House]," Vanderbilt University political science professor Alan Wiseman said. "It means a bunch of members of Congress aren't aware of it at all, or they are aware of it and this is a really low priority."

Embroiled in a contested 3rd Congressional District Republican primary race, Fleischmann has made the GSA scandal a major talking point during campaign speeches, mentioning the ACCOUNT Act as an applause line for deficit hawks. But even the congressman expressed doubt about his bill's chances after the Shoney's speech.

"I just don't know how robust the committee activity is going to be," Fleischmann said.

Fleischmann announced the ACCOUNT Act six days before the House passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) as a result of the GSA scandal. The DATA Act imposes a $500,000 limit on future agency conventions and creates a website where Americans can track how government agencies spend taxpayer money.

Kyle Kondick, a House analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, described Fleischmann's legislative effort as a swing at "low-hanging fruit."

"He's trying to latch himself onto the GSA story and give himself something to talk about," Kondick said. "He can say, 'Hey, I tried.'"

Vanderbilt's Wiseman said it is important for Fleischmann to have co-sponsors from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to push the ACCOUNT Act toward the House floor. As of Tuesday morning, Fleischmann had one such committee member - U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, a two-term Michigan Republican.

Two Tennessee congressmen on the oversight committee - U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg Republican - hadn't co-sponsored the ACCOUNT Act by Tuesday morning.

DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson said that changed after a reporter contacted him about it Tuesday afternoon.

"I just let Fleischmann's office know that we are going to co-sponsor his legislation," Jameson said in a phone message. "Apparently Congressman Fleischmann's office did reach out to us and we're just now getting around to our co-sponsorship list."

Cooper spokeswoman Katie Hill said a Fleischmann aide approached Cooper's staff, but "Representative Cooper doesn't sign on to many bills." Hill declined further comment on the ACCOUNT Act.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.