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Federal Reserve Board's Conference Spending Documentation Under Scrutiny

By / Jul 8, 2014 The board holds many events in the Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building in Washington, DC. (photo by squirrel83/Flickr)

When analyzing the conference spending of the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors, the Office of the Inspector General didn’t find a smoking gun—but it did find a lot of reporting issues.

The good news is that the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors hasn’t made any tactical errors on conference spending along the lines of the 2010 General Services Administration event in Las Vegas that led to scandal and calls for new scrutiny of federal agency conference and travel budgets.

But a new report from its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recommends that the board could do a better job of keeping track of conference spending.

The report credits the board for reducing costs by using its own facilities for most events. During the period from June 2010 to July 2012, the board hosted 673 conferences at its facilities at a cost of $1.4 million, as well as 33 events at nonboard facilities, costing $361,544.

The overarching concerns cited in the report are structural. Lack of clarity and documentation is a common theme.

“We found that divisions were unable to provide accurate and complete documentation to support the conference-related expenses reported to the OIG,” the report states [PDF]. “Additionally, we found that staff involved in planning conferences were unsure as to which division is responsible for retaining the supporting documentation.”

The report cites the board’s failure to follow a policy requiring written solicitation of bids for single purchases between $25,000 and $49,000 in value and to provide necessary documentation to show that policies were followed regarding requests for conference-related food and drink and extension of alcohol service beyond a 90-minute limit. The report offers five recommendations for improvement.

For its part, the Fed largely appeared open to the recommendations. A response to the OIG report largely agreed that there was room to improve procurement processes and documentation.

Meanwhile, legislation intended to boost transparency in federal conference spending remains stalled in Congress, having been pulled from markup in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month to allow more time for debate. Effects of the GSA scandal, which broke in 2012, linger: Earlier this year, a 2012 National Institute of Standards and Technology conference drew scrutiny for failing to take adequate measures to rein in costs, according to a separate inspector general’s report.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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