A recent IG report details gaps in the Labor Department’s conference spending disclosures. Among the issues: a failure to post information about high-cost conferences online and misrepresentation of expense cuts.
The challenges facing federal agencies that want to send employees to conferences are already substantial—and, thanks in part to a new report, they continue to stack up.
According to a report released last month by the Labor Department’s inspector general (IG), the agency failed to properly document nearly $2 million in event spending during the 2013 fiscal year and misrepresented how much money it saved as a result of cost-cutting measures mandated by the Obama administration. The White House called for more oversight of conference and travel expenditures by federal agencies in the wake of a 2010 spending scandal involving the General Services Administration.
Among the compliance problems documented by the IG:
The Labor Department failed to report all of its conferences online or to the Office of Inspector General. It left five events with a price tag above $100,000 off the website and failed to report two of these events to the inspector general’s office. The agency’s acting CFO, Karen Tekleberhan, said the conferences that were left off the website weren’t reported because the department believed that the conferences, as “bona fide training” events, were exempt from the rules, despite the fact that such events must be reported under current standards.
While the agency reported a 30 percent cost decrease, it failed to include contextual data for certain cost categories, which, the inspector general noted, could suggest that the agency reaped greater savings than it actually did. “While the plan included IT devices, executive fleet efficiencies, and extraneous promotional items, it did not identify the FY 2010 baseline costs or include these in the reduction target,” Labor Department Assistant Inspector General Elliot P. Lewis wrote in the report. “By including only certain categories, DOL could potentially manipulate its calculated cost reductions.”
The department failed to account for budget overruns in at least one case during the 2014 fiscal year, where conference costs ballooned by nearly $140,000 over the budgeted cost of $241,598. “[O]fficials should have requested approval for the higher costs, as soon as they realized actual costs were going to exceed the approved amount by more than 10 percent,” the report stated. In her response, Tekleberhan pledged to remind agency heads of the approval requirement.
“DOL is entrusted with public funds, and it should strive to demonstrate that it complies with all federal guidance to reduce costs to the government,” Lewis wrote in the report [PDF].
The report comes at a time when news on the federal conference spending front has been a mixed bag: The Office of Management and Budget has allowed for more flexibility in approving conference attendance in mission-critical situations, but members of Congress are considering further limiting federal employee attendance at conferences—a proposal that ASAE formally opposes.