The U.S. federal government and its agencies have been taken to task recently over excessive spending and poor expense management, and it seems the Veteran Affairs Department is facing scrutiny of its own management of funds. Following a $6.1 million bill for two employee conferences, the agency has been criticized for poor leadership, worse contract management and abuse of taxpayer dollars, ultimately leading to Chief Human Capital Officer John Sepulveda’s resignation.
The two events in question were held in Orlando, Florida in 2011, and were attended by 1,800 employees. Government Executive reports that contractors hired to organize the two events were so poorly managed that it became difficult for VA officials to determine which spend decisions were made by the agency and which by the contractors. Additionally, the Orlando World Center Marriott, which hosted the events, provided gifts that VA employees are not allowed to accept, including spa treatments, upgrades, tickets to various entertainment venues and transportation. In all, the amount of unauthorized spending for the two conferences totaled to $173,577.
This is not the first time a U.S. federal agency has come under scrutiny for its lax expense management, with one of the worst cases attributed to the General Services Administration’s (GSA) out-of-control spending during a 2010 Las Vegas conference. Until better expense and contract management policies are put into place, however, this sort of waste is likely to continue, despite the undercurrent of spend reduction that is taking hold in Washington. Agencies need more visibility and accountability in how they manage the money taxpayers entrust to them, which means access to technology that will better allow them to track not only where the money is going, but who has authorized its use. In an era where the deficit has reached record highs and unemployment is at unsatisfactory levels across much of the country, spending money on a clown and bottles of Italian wine for a training conference demonstrate critical need for immediate and comprehensive reform of federal agency spend policies.