Taxpayers Foot Bill for Over $300 Million in Government Conferences

A report released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee showed that in 2012 taxpayers paid the bill for 894 government conferences costing almost $350 million.

The report contained numbers for only those conferences costing over $100,000, so the total conference bill was likely significantly higher than the reported total.

The conference report was created after it became public last year that the General Service Administration, which is responsible for ensuring federal spending is kept low, had spent almost $1 million on a single Las Vegas conference in 2010 and that the Department of Veterans Affairs had spent over $6 million on two conferences in the summer of 2011.

The conference costs are frustrating to many lawmakers and citizens as the federal government continues to run a significant annual deficit and has yet to address $85 million in spending cuts slated to take effect this Friday.  Many lawmakers believe there are numerous frivolous government expenses such as conferences, certain job hires, and studies that provide little benefit.  They believe reduction of such expenses could more than make up for the impending spending cuts.

The conference report highlighted the largest offenders as well as those that had a seemingly modest conference budget.

The Defense Department is the largest federal government department.  Their conference spending reflected their size, as they were the biggest offender from a pure numbers standpoint.  The Defense Department spent almost $90 million on just shy of 300 conferences held in 2012.

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs claimed to be having an outside entity perform an independent review of its policies on conferences after the 2011 conference amounts were released, the department was still one of the biggest offenders highlighted in the 2012 conference report.  They spent almost $73 million on 127 conferences in 2012.

Two other departments highlighted included the Justice Department, spending almost $60 million on 107 conferences, and the Department of Health and Human Services, spending over $56 million on 140 conferences.

The Labor Department appeared to have the most reasonable conference budgeting, holding only four conferences in 2012 for a total bill of less than $1 million.

The Office of Management and Budget had issued in 2012 new guidelines for all federal departments concerning conferences and associated travel, with the goal of reducing conference spending in 2013 by 30 percent from 2010 spending levels.

In addition, the guidelines called for senior leader approval on all conferences anticipated to cost more than $100,000 and altogether prohibited conferences costing more than $500,000 unless the Office of Management and Budget granted a waiver for that single conference.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding hearings in an effort to implement the Office of Management and Budget guidelines with the goal of saving taxpayers millions of dollars this year and ultimately billions in taxpayer dollars going forward.

The House of Representatives has already reviewed and approved the guidelines, which are now known as H.R. 313, the Government Spending Accountability Act.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is continue to review the guidelines to see if additional measures are necessary to enact the desired level of conference and travel spending reduction.

by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.