VA held nearly 1,000 conferences during the past three and a half years

Susan Walsh/AP

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki ordered a comprehensive review.

The original headline and story misstated the timeframe for the conferences reported. They have been corrected.  

The Veterans Affairs Department held 948 conferences attended by 50 or more employees between January 2009 and June 2012, according to a contract notice posted Friday on the Federal Business Opportunities website seeking outside help analyzing the department’s conference planning and spending practices after VA Secretary Eric Shinseki ordered a comprehensive review.

In an Aug. 16 letter to Shinseki, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, pointed out that W. Todd Grams, the department’s chief financial officer, disclosed at a Nov. 15, 2011, hearing that VA’s conference spending totaled “a little more than $100 million” in fiscal 2011 and $92 million in 2009.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee disclosed Friday that VA spent $5.3 million on two conferences in Orlando, Fla., attended by 1,800 human resources employees in the summer of 2011. This is roughly seven times the $820,000 the General Services Administration spent on a Las Vegas conference for 300 employees in 2010.

Expense breakouts for one of those VA two conferences showed the department spent $296,165 on an audiovisual center for employee use, $184,800 for morning and evening refreshments, $90,747 for coffee break refreshments, and $862 for a karaoke night.

“As we learn more about these conferences, I am more and more concerned about the clear lack of leadership, accountability and transparency at VA,” Miller said in a statement Friday.

“To see that VA employees were treated to tens of thousands of dollars in refreshments, a $300,000 audiovisual center, and a night of karaoke does not invoke confidence in employees who are entrusted with the nation’s monies for veterans. The committee is now looking into additional conferences held during the past two years, and it is imperative that VA continues to provide information to Congress so that we can determine the full extent of this blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Miller said.

In a statement on the Orlando conferences, VA said: “Misuse of taxpayer funds is completely unacceptable. This event took place over a year ago and we have already adopted new rules that reflect our continuing commitment to safeguarding taxpayer dollars.

“While the inspector general stated on Aug. 13 that all indications are that the conferences were for legitimate training purposes, this would not excuse misconduct or poor judgment that is alleged of even a few individuals.”

In his Aug. 16 letter to Shinseki, Miller said VA later backtracked from the conference budget that Grams provided to the committee in November 2011 and told committee members that “an accurate, reliable figure on the number of conferences [held in the past several years] is not available.”

Miller asked Shinseki for a detailed list of the number of conferences that VA held in each fiscal year from 2009 through 2011 and their budgets, as well as data on fiscal 2012 conferences. Both the committee and the VA inspector general are conducting probes of department conferences.

VA is eyeing the use of an outside contractor to answer these questions, according the request for information notice posted last Friday.

The RFI indicates the department wants a contractor to examine policies and procedures governing conferences and travel regulations based on an unspecified number of randomly sampled conferences that Veterans Affairs held from 2009 through 2011. “The review shall include an assessment as to the adequacy of VA's controls over conference planning and how those controls are implemented throughout the department,” the document states.

Analysis of the conferences should “be conducted on records, on paper and electronic media. This will include analysis on the receipt of gifts, gratuities, or unbilled services provided to conference planners or other VA employees, and the necessity of preconference planning travel,” the RFI said.

VA wants interested vendors to respond by Aug. 30. If the department awards a contract, officials expect the analysis to be completed in 90 days.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.