After tougher scrutiny from Congress and inspectors general, along with an executive order on curbing conference spending, at least four agencies have significantly scaled back on events expenditures, according to a new report.
A staff report prepared for Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., examined what affect congressional and inspector general oversight has had on federal decision-making and conference spending. Overall, tighter controls have been adopted over conference spending, saving taxpayers about $219 million at the General Services Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense since fiscal 2010, according to the report.
“Projecting those savings governmentwide, taxpayers should realize as much as a half a billion dollars in savings annually from reductions of wasteful and excessive conference spending,” Mica said in a Jan. 14 statement.
Of the four agencies examined in the report, two — GSA and VA — have slashed their conference spending by 88 percent from FY2010 to FY2012. GSA’s numbers equate to about $14 million in savings for taxpayers, and VA’s spending cuts total roughly $76.5 million since FY2011.
At GSA, Administrator Dan Tangherlini has been credited with implementing a rigorous top-to-bottom review and policies to prevent and eliminate wasteful spending after taking the reins at the agency following the 2012 revelations detailing excessive conference spending.
VA also decided to revise its conference planning and oversight policy in the wake of an August 2012 probe into conferences that exceeded $87 million in 2011.
In addition, IRS saw major results with dialing back its conference spending, decreasing it 87 percent during the same time period. In FY 2010, IRS spent $37.6 million on conferences; in FY2012, that number was $4.9 million. In total, the agency saved more than $64 million.
The agency came under congressional fire after a June 2013 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration revealed IRS spent nearly $50 million on conferences between 2010 and 2013. One of those conferences was the August 2010 IRS Small Business/Self-Employed Division conference, which came with an estimated price tag of $4.1 million.
DOD’s conference spending fell from $89 million in FY2012 to $12.3 million through the first six months of FY2013, accounting for nearly $65 million in savings since FY2012. The department made a renewed effort to cut back on its conference spending after a House oversight hearing zeroed in on the Pentagon’s 64 conferences between 2005 and 2011 for which the cost per person exceeded GSA’s Las Vegas event.