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Labor Hasn't Reported All Its Conference Spending Properly

Still, the department's overall controls on spending amid a governmentwide crackdown are adequate, IG finds.

The crackdown on unnecessary travel and conference spending by both the Obama administration and Congress has added new paperwork and approval processes that agencies do not always execute thoroughly.

The Labor Department, according to an inspector general’s report released March 31, skipped a few requirements that it disclose conferences above a certain cost threshold and obtain advance approval from a deputy secretary. Nonetheless, its overall controls are “adequate,” the watchdog determined.

In a review of training conferences in fiscal 2013, the IG found that Labor proceeded with one conference out of six costing more than the $100,000 tipping point but did not obtain higher-ups’ approval. The department failed to report five of the conferences to the inspector general -- also required -- or post information on them on the agency website. In addition, Labor’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer did not inform the IG about 10 of 16 conferences costing between $20,000 and $100,000.

Labor did make progress toward the goal of reducing conference spending by 20 percent. But its reported $85.5 million in cost reductions—$24.5 million more than the original target—is questionable because the measure did not accurately factor in baseline costs in all cost categories from 2010, the report said. This includes categories such as travel, employee information technology devices, printing and the executive fleet.

The reporting requirements stem from both a 2012 Office of Management and Budget memo and a 2011 executive order from President Obama imposing a target of 20 percent reductions in conference and travel spending.

The IG recommended that Labor beef up compliance with reporting and obtaining proper approvals, flesh out details of category costs for each conference and “reemphasize to agency heads that as soon as they realize actual conference costs are going to exceed the approved amount by more than 10 percent they should reengage in the conference review and clearance process.”

The Chief Financial Officer’s office generally accepted the recommendations, but questioned the cost-effectiveness of further cost-category analysis. It also added that two of the conferences were not reported because it was thought they qualified as “bona fide training” exceptions to the reporting requirement.

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