Stories about government waste are common. Every few months, a report from a government watchdog group emerges highlighting terrible excess and overspending by the federal government.  There are calls for investigations, a few letters are exchanged between the offending agency and Congress, and then everything settles down until the whole cycle is repeated weeks or months later.  

In short, nothing changes. 

The latest scandal involves the Department of Homeland Security–officials from which exhibit near unheard of indifference to the evidence of departmental excess. 

Reported by the Washington Times this weekend, the story involves a new DHS Inspector General report which finds $110 million was spent over a two-year period for more than 8,000 employees to attend conferences, seminars and retreats “including a FEMA meeting in Hawaii, an immigration conference in Singapore and an underwater tunnel protection gathering in London, just to name a few.”  

The report, which was released Thursday evening, found there are no spending limits for the Homeland Security Department set by Congress or by internal regulation or agency policy, to determine how much can be spent to attend conferences.  

The report also found that the department had a “general inability” to produce precise or consistent information, which gave “little assurance that all conferences and costs were accounted for properly.”  

When asked about why the Department can’t seem to produce accurate records, one official simply said:

 “…there is no reason to track conference expenditures because there are no spending restrictions,” the report said. 

Another official told the IG that the only benefit to tracking costs is so they can report it to Congress.  The IG also found discrepancies in reports to Congress it said were “unintentional.” For example, the IG found that $2 million more was spent in 2005 than initially reported.

So what will Congress do about this?  House Homeland Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said this:  

“It is encouraging to see that DHS has agreed to address all of the IG’s findings, and we will convene oversight hearings next year to hold DHS accountable for instituting tighter controls on conference spending.” 

Well, that’s fine. Chairman Thompson should be commended for addressing this issue and for calling for the IG report in the first place.  But how about Congress try something new.  How about Thompson work to recover this $100 million by reducing next year’s appropriations amount from DHS’ general account or from their legislative affairs account (it is, after all the role of legislative affairs to keep Congress informed), or by identifying and cutting programs that aren’t working (there are dozens) at the Department in order to recover this $100 million in taxpayer dollars. 

Something tells me those DHS officials might actually start to listen if someone reduces their funding. Because I’m not sure the standard so-called “oversight” actions of hearings and letters and briefings are really working.  In Washington, money matters.