DoD bans entertainment, swag at conferences

Thursday - 10/11/2012, 11:30am EDT

No more motivational speakers, musicians or promotional swag. The Defense Department is banning entertainment-related expenses at its conferences.

The Pentagon memo on conference oversight also prohibits conference participants from receiving gifts, such as tickets to recreational events outside of the conference. And DoD conference organizers can't use funds to produce videos not related to the conference.

"Common sense and good judgment must be used throughout the conference planning process. If there is any doubt as to the appropriateness of certain expenses, coordinate with appropriate officials, including legal counsel," according to the Sept. 29 memo signed by Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of Defense.

The memo echoes a May Office of Management and Budget memo prohibiting conference spending above $500,000, unless an agency head determines there are "exceptional circumstances" to spend beyond that limit.

The DoD memo lays out a "tiered approval process," where any DoD-hosted conference costing more than $500,000 must be approved by the secretary or the undersecretary of the component hosting the conference. Approval for conferences between $100,000 and $500,000 can be delegated to senior leaders.

Senior leaders also must approve costs exceeding $20,000 for Pentagon employees to attend conferences not organized by DoD.

When making approval decisions, leaders should consider whether there are alternatives to the conferences, such as videoconferencing or webinars, according to the memo.

Agencies are paying more attention to conference spending after the General Services Administration's inspector general revealed in April that the agency had spent $823,000 on a Las Vegas conference. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has probed more than 150 conferences since 2005, looking for areas of wasteful or excessive spending.

Most recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs has come under fire for spending $6.1 million on two conferences in Orlando, Fla. VA's inspector general identified as much as $762,000 in wasteful spending and pointed to weak leadership as the cause of the poor planning.

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