In yet another agency conference controversy, the Veterans Affairs Department is under investigation for allegedly spending $5 million on two human resources training conferences at which employees may have received improper gifts, according to a Federal Times story published Monday night.
Citing unnamed sources in the VA inspector general’s office, the report said tens of thousands of dollars may have gone to multiple trips in preparation for two conferences in Orlando, Fla., in July and August 2011. Employees are said to have received thousands of dollars in promotional items as gifts, including alcohol, concert tickets and spa visits, the publication said.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, are both quoted condemning the alleged waste of taxpayer funds, which came to light following an anonymous hotline tip to the IG in the wake of the April scandal over the General Services Administration’s over-the-top conference in Las Vegas in 2010.
In a statement, VA said "the department is cooperating fully with the IG’s investigation, Secretary [Eric] Shinseki has informed key members of Congress, and will hold accountable any individuals who are found to have misused taxpayer dollars or violated our standards of conduct."
The statement also said VA has removed the purchasing authority of any employees in the work unit under investigation, and Shinseki has has ordered an independent review of training policies and procedures.
Update: The original version of this article, and of the Federal Times story it references, indicated VA had allegedly spent $9 million on the conferences. The department says the correct figure is $5 million.