Collins wants to know why VA conference planners received bonuses

Wednesday - 10/10/2012, 7:09pm EDT

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wants more details from the Veterans Affairs Department on whether the $762,000 in questionable spending on two training conferences last summer was "just the tip of iceberg."

In an Oct. 9 letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinskei, Collins requested the agency disclose whether employees responsible for planning the two conferences held in Orlando, Fla., last summer, also worked on other conferences. In addition, Collins said she wants to know how much conference planners earned in bonuses and other awards for their work.

The VA inspector general's office released its final report last week, finding the agency spent $6.1 million on the two conferences. While investigators concluded the events served a legitimate training purpose, their report detailed hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable spending, including nearly $50,000 for a parody video and $112,000 for unnecessary promotional items.

The IG cited a failure of top VA leadership to properly oversee conference spending and for remaining uninvolved in conference planning.

Despite the poor communication between leadership and staff and the numerous instances of "excessive or unnecessary costs," VA awarded 17 employees cash awards for their management of the conference. Altogether, the awards totaled $43,000.

In her letter, Collins said she wants VA to provide the documentation and the justification for these bonuses and whether VA is taking action "to recover these bonuses improperly given and received by the senior officials."

Collins is also seeking an internal report (which predates the IG investigation) that she said "should have uncovered the wasteful spending that took place in Orlando before it was uncovered" by the IG's office.

In September 2011, the Office of Management and Budget directed agencies to review their conference spending and report to OMB as part of the administration's Campaign to Cut Waste.

Collins wants VA to provide a copy of the report it sent to OMB.

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