Commerce Department conference costs can be hard to pin down

Commerce Department headquarters Commerce Department headquarters Flickr user NCinDC

More than 60 percent of conference spending that Commerce Department bureaus reported in the first quarter of fiscal 2012 was not based on actual costs incurred, according to a new report from Commerce’s inspector general.  

In an analysis of the department’s spending on 24 conferences, the IG’s report found that $772,282 of the total $1.7 million in reported spending was based on estimates. Auditors labeled another $282,637 of the total as unsupported costs.

Many of Commerce’s bureaus told the IG that they used estimates because exact expense amounts were not “available immediately or at the close of a quarter.” One office told the IG that it would not receive exact figures for months or even years after the conclusion of a conference. 

“Further, our review of bureau support for conference spending showed that estimated costs were often over- or understated compared to the confirmed actual costs,” the report said. Some conference costs were over-reported by $37,000 while others were under-reported by $70,000, according to the IG.

In response to the IG, Commerce Chief Financial Officer Scott Quehl said many measures had been taken to ensure that new policies were implemented to address conference spending.

“Since the beginning of fiscal 2012, the department has continued to enhance its controls around conference spending,” Quehl said.

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