VA’s pricey ‘Patton’ spoof draws heat from lawmakers


At least three key lawmakers have sent letters to the Veterans Affairs Department demanding further details on two multimillion-dollar federal training conferences held in Florida last summer, specifically asking about a video featuring an actor reprising the famous opening scene from the 1970 film “Patton.”

Ten days after the story broke that VA is under investigation for having spent an estimated $5 million on two conferences in Orlando, Fla., at which some employees may have accepted improper gifts, Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, joined ranking member Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., in a letter asking VA Secretary Eric Shinseki for three years’ worth of information on conference spending.

“I question the excessiveness in which taxpayer dollars are being used to fund multimillion dollar conferences,” Miller said. “The committee will continue to investigate these conferences. I have requested all budgets and materials for VA conferences that have occurred over the past three years to see if these two conferences are an anomaly or are part of a bigger pattern.”

Miller also asked the VA to clarify a past discrepancy in reporting the total amount the department spends on conferences. That letter follows a similar request from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who on Aug. 13 called the video and alleged overspending “eerily similar” to the scandal that broke in April over $820,000 that a group within the General Services Administration spent on a four-day training conference for 300 in Las Vegas.

Issa said the VA inspector general’s office had identified seven individuals who made scouting grips to three cities in planning the Orlando conferences. He questioned why an outside contractor was given the job of creating the “Patton” video celebrating VA human resources officials when there are videographers on the VA staff.

Issa also noted that Veterans Affairs had yet to respond to his April request to 24 agencies for general documents on conferences involving more than 50 attendees.

Also writing to VA on Aug. 13, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked for a briefing on how much the department spent on the two conferences. She asked how that compared with other recent conferences; what other conferences the relevant employees had worked on; what reviews of conference expenditures are underway at the department; what disciplinary measures have been taken toward those employees and “what systemic reforms have you implemented, or do you plan to implement, to prevent similar abuses in the future.”

On Wednesday, VA issued a statement on the video. “This parody should never have been produced and this misuse of taxpayer funds is completely unacceptable,” the department said. “This event took place over a year ago and we have already adopted new rules that reflect our continuing commitment to safeguarding taxpayer dollars.”

An Aug. 13 departmental statement said Shinseki had stripped purchasing authority from employees involved in the Orlando conferences and vowed to "hold accountable any individuals who are found to have misused taxpayer dollars or violated our standards of conduct." Shinseki has also been communicating with the lawmakers by telephone.

Miller expects answers by Sept. 4, Issa and Collins by Aug. 27.

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

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

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


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