The Army in 2010 spent $10.7 million on an educational conference, roughly 13 times the amount that the General Services Administration spent on a controversial training event in Las Vegas that year, according to a report from Bloomberg Businessweek.
According to records obtained by Businessweek through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Army spent $10.7 million on its annual three-day conference organized by the Association for the U.S. Army, an Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group. It spent another $10.6 million on that same conference in 2011, the report said. In total, taxpayers paid $37.7 million during the past four years for 9,805 service members and civilians to participate in the conference, Businessweek found.
The report comes as Congress is investigating several incidences of overspending on conferences in the federal government. In addition to GSA’s $820,000 Las Vegas conference, which included a mind reader and commemorative coins, the Veterans Affairs Department has come under fire for two 2011 human resources training events in Florida that together cost $6.1 million and had 1,800 attendees. Part of that cost was a $50,000 video spoofing the movie “Patton.”
Army spokesman Michael Brady told Businessweek that “a comparison to GSA or even VA would not only be inaccurate, but unfair.” Brady described the three-day Army conference as “an education forum on topics such as cyber warfare for military members, civilians, lawmakers and journalists and not an occasion for feting employees.” He said the Army understands the importance of reining in spending and told the publication in an interview that although the Army attends the conference, “we do not put this on.”
He added: “They got in trouble for spa treatments and iPods. That just doesn’t happen here.”
The Army accounts for as much as a quarter of the conference’s attendance, and the event commands about 35,000 participants and 600 industry and military exhibits. This year’s conference, which takes place next week, will cost $1.3 million for 400 attendees, an 88 percent reduction from prior years, but still significantly more than the GSA spent on the Las Vegas conference for about 300 attendees, according to the records obtained by Businessweek. The report also noted a July memo indicating that the Army would allow just 10 organizations and commands to display exhibits at this year’s event.