Several years ago, the Internal Revenue Service was thrust into the spotlight after auditors revealed that the agency had spent $49 million on conferences—including one incredibly lavish event in California where employees got briefcases, engraved pens and Los Angeles Angels baseball tickets.
The revelations were another black eye for the agency, which in some ways is still paying for those embarrassing spending splurges. Earlier this year, Congress defended slashing the IRS budget by $346 million by reminding everyone about the agency’s over-the-top event expenses.
But the IRS is hardly the only federal agency that spends big on conferences. The General Services Administration, Defense Department and Health and Human Services Department have all been flagged for similar issues with conference spending.
Now, the Department of Energy is in the hot seat too. A new report from the agency’s inspector general revealed that the DoE spent $21 million between 2013 and 2014 hosting 329 employee conferences and events — including treating its workers to a swanky dinner boat cruise and a casino night.
The department shelled out $100,000 or more on each of at least 16 conferences, while the rest cost $20,000 or more, according to the report. When reviewing these expenses, auditors uncovered “accounting, documentation and justification issues” with at least one-third of the events.
The federal government started cracking down on conference spending several years ago, following the IRS’s multi-million dollar conference in California and an infamous GSA party in Las Vegas.
Since then, the Office of Management and Budget has set guidelines requiring agencies to publicly report their conference and event expenses. But while the agencies seem to be following the rules and submitting their annual conference expenses, auditors are quickly finding out that their accounting practices aren’t always accurate. It turns out, some of the government’s largest agencies have no idea how much money they spend on conferences and events, or even how many conferences they’re hosting.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General, for example, reported earlier this year that the Pentagon significantly underreported how much it spent on conferences in the last few years. The department also didn’t seem to know for sure how many conferences and events it hosted. HHS’s auditors found similar issues within their department.
Since 2013, agencies have been required to cut their travel and event expenses by at least 30 percent. However, the OMB recently announced that it would be scaling back some of its spending restrictions for “mission critical” events.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: