GSA projects $11 million savings from canceled conferences

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The General Services Administration announced that it expects to save $11 million from April through September from cuts in travel, conferences, training and meetings.

The announcement came just as House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is stepping up demands on numerous agencies for historical data on past conferences costs, particularly at the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments.

“Four months ago we began a rigorous top-to-bottom review of all agency operations,” GSA acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini said in the statement Monday. “We've made significant cuts in travel and conference spending and these savings are just the beginning. We are deepening our commitment to promoting efficiency, driving steeper bargains, delivering better value and creating greater opportunities for savings here at GSA and across the government.”

Since the scandal broke in April revealing overspending by some in GSA’s Public Buildings Service at a 2010 training conference in Las Vegas, GSA has instituted a top-to-bottom review and canceled 47 conferences and implemented oversight to ensure that all travel and events are limited to necessary and essential functions. Tangherlini has consolidated oversight of conference and travel expenses in the new Office of Administrative Services.

Meanwhile, Issa released copies of letters he sent to 10 agencies summarizing his committee’s review of details agencies had supplied in response to his April request regarding past conferences that might have involved overspending. In an Aug. 22 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Issa asked for background going back six years on some 64 conferences that he tagged as questionable.

“The committee has analyzed thousands of documents obtained from federal agencies and citizen watchdogs related to conference spending in the executive branch,” Issa wrote. “Any conference that cost taxpayers more per person than GSA’s 2010 conference in Las Vegas raised a red flag.”

The letter to the Defense Department follows eight similar missives sent in recent weeks to GSA; the Agriculture, Interior, Health and Human Services, Education, and the Housing and Urban Development departments; as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Small Business Administration.

A Pentagon spokesman told Government Executive that “we received Rep. Issa's Aug. 22 letter and are working on a prompt and complete response to his committee's request for information.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the time period in which GSA expects to save $11 million. The savings are through September.

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