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GSA Leader Asks Agency to Review His Travel Expenses : Government: Ex-O.C. businessman Roger Johnson visited his Laguna home on five of nine official trips to the region.

March 15, 1994|JAMES BORNEMEIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Former Orange County businessman Roger Johnson, who now heads the General Services Administration, has asked the agency's inspector general to examine his travel records after questions were raised about detours he made to his Laguna Beach home during official visits to the region.

Johnson visited his home on five of the nine official trips he scheduled during his first seven months in office, the Wall Street Journal reported in its Monday edition. According to the GSA, the total cost of the trips was at least $7,000.

Last week, after the home visits came to light, Johnson asked for the internal review and vowed to reimburse the government for any expenses deemed questionable, a GSA spokesman said Monday.

"When he (went) to the region, a lot of these trips mixed personal and business as he was trying to wrap up things back home," said GSA spokesman Hap Connors. "The inspector general is considered an independent arbiter of these things . . . and will take the subjective (viewpoint) out of it," Connors said.

Karen Shaffer, a spokeswoman for GSA Inspector General William R. Barton, said Johnson visited Barton last Thursday to request the review, which would probably be completed in a couple of weeks.

Johnson, former chief executive of Western Digital Corp., was one of only a few Republicans named to high-level posts in the Clinton Administration. He gained considerable political leverage when he broke ranks with the Republican Party to endorse Clinton's presidential bid, although he has maintained that his political party affiliation was not the basis for his appointment.

He has been a central player in the Administration's pledge to "reinvent" government by eliminating waste and trimming costs.

One of the trips West was prompted when Johnson's wife, Janice, called to say she was evacuating their home during last fall's devastating fires. "I ran out to get a plane," the Journal reported Johnson saying.

Janice Johnson has since moved to Washington.

Johnson denied that he ever intended to misuse tax-supported travel funds and said that he paid for part of the trips, including an airline ticket to Utah, where he owns another residence.

"He was told beforehand that he was in compliance with federal regulations by our travel and budget people," Connors said. "Quite frankly, he's asking for the review as a matter of appearance--just so there would be no further questions. Mr. Johnson has stated that he will reimburse all questionable items."

As a presidential appointee, Johnson is eligible for per diem pay when traveling on official business, Connors said. The payments vary according to regions of the country, but the ones in question for Johnson range from $30 a day for the Utah trip to $38 a day for the California visits.

The Journal said it obtained Johnson's travel vouchers through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Times could not obtain those records Monday.

The GSA manages the government's vast real estate holdings and does much of its purchasing. It also oversees construction of new buildings, such as the proposed Santa Ana federal courthouse.

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