Agencies Justify Conference Tabs Above $100,000
Expanding on a 2011 OMB directive and executive order from President Obama promoting efficient spending, the latest Zients memo requires reductions in travel and conferences in the wake of the spring 2012 scandal involving extravagant spending at a General Services Administration training conference. It prohibits conferences costing more than $500,000 and requires agencies to report on events costing more than $100,000. Reports from all agencies were due Jan. 31.
The Office of Personnel Management’s submission, for example, prepared by its inspector general, reported $142,320 for a four-day event on auditing at the Wyndham Virginia Crossings Hotel and Conference Center in Glen Allen, Va. About 80 employees were “provided leadership, communication and technical skills that have enhanced the execution of” the mission of the Office of Inspector General, the report said.
“In keeping with the government’s efforts to safeguard federal funds, the summary said, “OPM continues to focus on exercising discretion and judgment in incurring expenses related to conference sponsorship, conference hosting or attendance of federal employees at conferences sponsored or hosted by nonfederal entities. Consequently, OPM strives to ensure: (1) conference expenses are appropriate, necessary, and managed in a manner that minimizes expense to taxpayers” and that they are reported transparently in accordance with the OMB memo.
The Securities and Exchange Commission reported that the independent agency held two conferences “at SEC headquarters to minimize costs.” One was a chief enforcement conference in October, where 119 headquarters personnel and 100 regional employees gathered for three days at a cost of $199,867.
“This annual conference gathers managers from the nationwide Enforcement program to review and collaborate on organizational priorities,” the SEC report said. “Leaders learn from recent work throughout the program and coordinate with other divisions and offices within the SEC. This allows the division to maximize shared knowledge that assists the division in keeping pace with the sophisticated and dynamic capital markets.”
The second event was the National Examination Program Leadership Conference in June, which hosted 52 headquarters and 202 regional employees at a cost of $203,501. “This conference gathered SEC managers from across the NEP to collaborate on strategic planning and organizational priorities,” said the report from acting SEC chairman Elisse Walters. “The conference included discussions on governance, structure, process, technology, and compliance related to risk assessment tools and procedures, implementation of Dodd-Frank Act requirements and rulemaking, and collaboration with other commission offices and divisions.”
The Environmental Protection Agency reported that it spent $3.7 million on conferences costing more than $100,000. Attendance was estimated at 10,000 to 20,000, “which includes visitors attending EPA’s Earth Day activities as well as representatives from industry, academia and the nongovernmental organizations attending several federally mandated work groups,” the report said. “Conferences remain a vital means of sharing critical information on the environment. Conferences in which EPA employees traveled to the event were generally for training such as conducting emergency preparedness training for environmental hazards.”