Issa probing conferences that exceeded GSA price tag

Wednesday - 8/22/2012, 8:33pm EDT

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is probing more than 150 conferences hosted by 11 agencies since 2005 where wasteful spending or excessive spending may have have occurred, according to a committee release.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the oversight chairman, said the committee is using the lavish $823,000 regional conference hosted by the General Services Administration in 2010 as a "benchmark" to compare other agencies' conference spending.

The revelations of the excessive spending at GSA led to the firings and resignations of top agency leadership and sparked outrage in Congress earlier this year.

Shortly after the GSA scandal broke, Issa wrote to the heads of 23 agencies and departments requesting records of conference costs for the last seven years.

Based on those responses, conferences that cost more per person than the GSA conference — $3,000 per attendee or $600 per attendee, per day — "raised a red flag," Issa wrote.

Issa says costly conferences not the exception

All told, the committee turned up 153 such conferences since 2005, with the Defense Department claiming the lion's share of them — 64.

"It was the hope of members of the committee that the GSA conference was an outlier by any metric designed to quantify the waste and abuse that occurred there," Issa wrote in an Aug. 22 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. "It was not."

A DoD spokeswoman said the department would respond to Issa's letter before commenting publicly on his concerns.

Last month, Issa sent nearly identical letters to nine other agencies that also reported holding conferences that were more expensive on a per-person basis than the GSA conference.

"It is important to note that we are not prejudging the importance and usefulness of these conferences," Issa noted in the letter. "Instead, we seek additional information to enable the committee to determine if expenditures were appropriate and taxpayer dollars were wasted."

Issa requested the agencies provide more information about the conferences, including itineraries, attendance lists, information about conference budgets and further details about any other conferences that exceeded the GSA benchmark.

Issa requested DoD reply to the letter by Sept. 5.

The other agencies faced a deadline of July 26 to submit their responses.

Other conferences probed

Earlier this week, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, said an internal investigation at the Veterans Affairs Department revealed the agency spent $5 million on two training conferences last year.

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