OMB orders governmentwide review of conference spending

Thursday - 9/22/2011, 6:51am EDT


Deputy secretaries now have one more job: signing off on all conference expenses.

This is the latest edict from the Office of Management and Budget on the heels of a Justice Department inspector general report detailing excessive spending by the agency at conferences.

OMB Director Jacob Lew sent a memo to agency secretaries instructing them to conduct a review of their policies and controls around conference-related activities and expenses.

"Until such time as the deputy secretary (or equivalent) can certify that the appropriate policies and controls are in place to mitigate the risk of inappropriate spending practices with regard to conferences, approval of conference-related activities and expenses shall be cleared through the deputy secretary (or equivalent)," Lew wrote.

He said agencies must submit to OMB the results of this review by Nov. 1.

"I will then reconvene all agency heads at the next Campaign to Cut Waste cabinet meeting in December, and ask each and every one of them what they are doing to get on top of conference-related expenses and cut waste in this area and in other parts of their operations," said Vice President Joseph Biden in a statement.

The DoJ IG found the agency spent about $490,000 on food and beverages at conferences — more than 10 percent of the $4.4 million total cost of the 10 events analyzed.

This isn't the first time agencies have come under scrutiny for spending at conferences.

In February 2010, the Homeland Security Department's IG found from 2005 to 2007, the department reportedly spent approximately $110 million on conference-related activities — $60 million in direct costs and an additional $50 million identified as salary expenses for employees attending the conference.

NASA's chief financial officer in January 2009 issued a memo limiting funding for conferences to $5 million for that year and requiring reports to the agency's IG for all conference expenses worth more than $20,000.

The space agency's auditors found in March 2010 that NASA spent too much money on food and beverages and didn't do cost comparisons among the facilities it was using.

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