DOD, other agencies now under the microscope on conference costs

In the wake of the General Service Administration's conference-spending scandal that erupted in April, many more agencies are suddenly under examination for conference costs. The Defense Department may be next on the list of organizations to receive the financial scrutiny, according to CQ.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is asking Pentagon leadership to provide detailed spending information on 64 conferences held in recent years that exceeded the roughly $823,000 price tag of the Las Vegas conference over which GSA was criticized. The Veterans Affairs department is facing similar criticisms over two conferences held in Florida in 2011.

In an Aug. 22 letter Issa called on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to furnish by Sept. 5 further information on a number of specific conferences held by DOD that surpassed the “benchmark” cost of the GSA conference in Las Vegas. Events costing more than GSA's are automatic red flags for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs and which is investigating federal agency conference spending in response to what happened at GSA.

“GSA’s 2010 conference in Las Vegas cost taxpayers more than $3,000 per attendee…in other words, it cost more than $500 per attendee, per day for the five-day conference. The committee used these figures…as benchmarks to identify conference held by DOD where wasteful or excessive spending may have occurred,” Issa wrote.

Issa went on to specify a list of dozens of DOD conferences that have raised the committee members' suspicions.

“Documents provided by DOD in response to the committee’s April 10, 2012 request for information showed the department held 64 conferences for which the cost per person exceeded that of the infamous GSA Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas,” he wrote. “As part of the committee’s ongoing investigation into government-wide spending on conferences, I request additional information about those conferences.”

The conferences in question took place between December 2006 and September 2011. Many were held stateside, including in and near Washington, but others took place overseas in locations like Burkina Faso, Thailand, Belize and various parts of South America and Europe.

DOD isn’t the only agency being ordered to produce detailed conference spending data: nine other agencies face the same request to provide details on a total of 89 conferences, according to Federal Times. Among them are the Social Security Administration, U.S. Agency for International Development and the departments of Education, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Health and Human Services. Those are in addition to the 64 DOD conferences in question.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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