DHS comes under fire for failure to track conference and travel costs

Homeland Security Department officials on Thursday acknowledged they lacked the means to know if the $110 million DHS spent on conferences and retreats between 2005 and 2007 was a good use of taxpayer money.

Addressing the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight, Carlton Mann, assistant inspector general for inspections for the DHS Office of Inspector General, urged better oversight of future conference and travel decisions. Although the department spent less than 1 percent of available funds on conferences, "these small ratios represent millions of dollars where management vulnerabilities can exist," he said. "DHS must exercise due diligence to ensure that funding conference-related activities is an appropriate means for accomplishing departmentwide objectives."

According to an audit by the department's IG released in November 2009, DHS officials were unable to produce consistent numbers on conference spending and keep tabs on costs. The report also stated that Homeland Security had not clearly identified responsibilities, authorities or terminology to track how money was spent.

The audit presents "an extremely troubling picture of not only the amount of money spent, but also a lack of internal controls, minimal oversight and insufficient reporting throughout the entire department," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the full committee.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Christopher Carney, D-Pa., decried the limited departmentwide procedures for determining or minimizing the number of employees attending conferences. "The only 'test' that appears to be in place for determining the necessity of travel is whether funding is available," he said. "This must be fixed."

He also questioned DHS for buying employees plane tickets that cost as much as $8,000, and about the possibility of unnecessary food reimbursements.

Mann said because the department operates in a decentralized financial management environment, it was hard to consolidate costs. He called for conference planning policies to be defined and monitored at the department level to ensure consistency across components.

Elaine Duke, undersecretary for management at DHS, agreed with most of the IG's findings, and said some progress had been made already. In October 2008, DHS issued a handbook delineating its policies on employee travel expenses and conference planning. In March 2009, it launched a review to streamline operations and trim costs. Duke said the department would use conference calls, local events and Web-based communications whenever possible.

Last November, DHS established a conference and event planning services working group to develop a resource package with low- or no-cost alternatives for employees to use when planning conferences and events.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.