DHS Spent Millions on Conferences It Didn’t Report

Two-thirds of high-cost conferences went unreported, IG finds.

The Homeland Security Department failed to report nearly two dozen conferences in 2014 and 2015 with a cumulative price tag of more than $3.5 million, according to a new report, skirting federal requirements.

DHS did not publicly report two out of every three conferences that cost more than $100,000, the agency’s inspector general found, as required by a rule issued during the Obama administration following a scandal at the General Services Administration. Department officials said they did not report the conferences because they were for training purposes and thought they were therefore exempt from the requirements, an interpretation the IG said was mistaken.

The audit comes just weeks after the Office of Management and Budget said it would no longer enforce the Obama-era conference spending reporting requirements. The Trump administration defended that decision by claiming agencies had instituted tighter internal controls on their conference spending. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney explained the conference reporting was inefficient and taking time away from employees who could be conducting more mission-critical work.

“I don’t think anyone sees this as a license to start goofing off again,” Mulvaney said in June. “And if they do, they do so at their own peril.”

The DHS failures extended beyond just the priciest conferences; the IG found in fiscal 2014 the department reported on events costing more than $20,000 to the inspector general within 15 days as required by law just 13 percent of the time. In fiscal 2015, DHS never entered a cost into its internal tracking system for one-third of all its conferences.

The auditors did not identify any specific instances of inappropriate or unreasonable expenses—such as the infamous $820,000 Las Vegas GSA conference with lavish meals, gifts for attendees and fancy hotel rooms—but cited DHS for a lack of candor.

“Accurate reporting of conference costs is important to ensure transparency,” the IG said.

The IG made five recommendations to compel the DHS chief financial officer to institute tighter controls of conference reporting and to update department policies to clarify responsibilities. The auditors noted that DHS management has already taken appropriate measures to address its suggestions.