Are pricey events making a comeback at federal agencies? It appears so at one agency.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hid from taxpayers that they hosted 20 conferences over two years at a cost of over $3.6 million to taxpayers.
DHS hosts and sponsors conferences that bring together employees and stakeholders to share information, learn, get trained, and coordinate greater collaboration. According to a review, in FY 2014, DHS held 433 conferences costing $11.4 million and 478 conferences in 2015 costing $10.4 million.
The question is whether those dollars were wisely spent. Of the total reported conferences, DHS said they spent over $100,000 on six conferences in 2014 and four in 2015.
That’s not the whole picture. DHS did not disclose 20 conferences above the $100,000 threshold on which they spent a total of over $3,685,000. They also failed to meet reporting requirements and deadlines on smaller conferences.
The Inspector General’s report noted:
Accurate reporting of conference costs is important for the integrity of the conference cost reporting process and to ensure transparency. Without adequate supporting documentation, DHS cannot be assured that all conference spending is appropriate or in the best interest of the Government and taxpayers.
While the report claimed DHS spending seemed appropriate, we are left to wonder if outrageous, lavish conference spending was creeping back in at federal agencies. The dollar-value of a conference could make sense if the spending was for true business purposes and whether the spending was prudent. Some agencies do not a have good track record for meeting those criteria.
In 2010, American taxpayers were on the hook when the General Services Administration (GSA) blew $800,000 on a whooper of a conference. They threw a $31,000 networking reception with a $19-per-person cheese display, $3,200 on a mind reader, $2,800 on water bottles, and over $100,000 on employee travel costs just to scout the event – meaning the prior Las Vegas trips to check out hotel venues. Incurring a catering cost to feed conference attendees is reasonable, but spending $19-per-person on cheese is not.
High-level GSA officials took heat when the lavish spending was revealed. All federal agencies have been under scrutiny about how they use taxpayer dollars on conferences since then.
In May 2012, the Office of Managament and Budget instructed all agencies to initiate senior-level reviews of planned conferences and approval for all future conference expenses above $100,000. In addition, conferences were prohibited from incurring more than half a million dollars unless they got a waiver. All agencies are also required to publicly report all agency-sponsored conferences above $100,000. In addition, further reporting requirements were added including notifying the Inspector General of every conference, which costs the U.S. government more than $20,000 within two weeks of the event.
It appears that DHS purposefully underreported their spending, perhaps to avoid appearing frivolous or worse.
As taxpayers, we expect that our hard-earned tax dollars are not being wasted, but for too long, that has been the status quo in Washington. Bureaucrats had been comfortable using and abusing public funds and the public trust.
The Trump Administration ordered a top-to-bottom review of every federal agency looking for duplication and waste. Hopefully the days of wasteful spending will come to an end.