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Homeland Security Spending on Major Conferences Continues to Fly Under the Radar

Since the GSA scandal, costs of big events must be posted online.

The Obama administration’s push to economize on agency conferences since the 2012 scandal that rocked the General Services Administration may be easier ordered than executed.

The Homeland Security Department, its watchdog reported last month, submitted information on only 15 percent of conferences costing $20,000 or more from Oct. 1, 2013, to Dec., 31, 2014. That’s 28 of 187 confabs it was required to report to the inspector general’s office and eventually to the public. Of the 28, only 7 percent were reported within the required 15 days.

The reporting requirements come from both the IG and the DHS Office of the Chief Financial Officer, for compliance with a 2012 directive from the Office of Management and Budget that the cost and purpose of all conferences with a price tag of more than $100,000 be shared on a public website.

The conference details DHS officials did post, the report noted, were not readily accessible to the public. “At the time of our field work, the information was not available without a specific direct link,” the report said. “When we tried to navigate the public website, we could not access the reports.”

Homeland Security, which held 1,883 conferences at a cost of $20 million in fiscal 2014, showed improvement in the first quarter of fiscal 2015, auditors said, with the percentage of required conference reporting rising from 13 percent to 30 percent.

One reason for the DHS’ spotty compliance, according to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, was lack of awareness of a July 2013 directive from that office. The Transportation Security Administration, for example, said it was not aware of the requirement but had since better informed its staff. In addition, DHS managers said the final costs of conferences are not always clear within the 15-day timeframe, and sometimes it is not even clear whether events' costs will meet the $20,000 threshold.

One remedy being used is a Web-based conference attendance tool, which, according to the IG, does not require documentation or provide sufficient prompts on the 15-day deadline.

The watchdog recommended that DHS managers make sure employees understand the need to report on conferences costing above $20,000 within 15 days; update the conference attendance tool to better differentiate between conferences reported late and those not reportable; and make conference reports more accessible on the website.

Jim Crumpacker, Homeland Security’s liaison with the Government Accountability Office and the IG, wrote that the department concurred.

The Labor Department has also had trouble reporting on conference reporting.

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