The behemoth Department of Homeland Security violated federal rules when they neglected to report nearly two dozen conferences sponsored by the agency in 2014 and 2015 at an overall cost of more than $3.5 million.
That finding – dating back to the Obama administration -- was disclosed last week by DHS’s Office of Inspector General. Despite the political sensitivity of excessive conference travel and partying dating back to the General Services Administration scandal in Las Vegas in 2014, DHS failed to publicly report two out of every three conferences that cost more than $100,000 a piece, according to the new report.
DHS, with an annual budget of $40.6 billion, is the third largest government department with more than 240,000 employees. Apologetic department officials said the agency failed to report these because they misinterpreted the rules and thought that training conferences could be excluded.
Still, the inspector general declared that “Accurate reporting of conference costs is important to ensure transparency.”
The agency failed to report six conferences in fiscal 2014 and 14 conferences in FY 2015 in its Annual Report to the Office of Inspector General and on the public website as required by federal regulations. Although the report doesn’t specify the conferences in question, the total dollar value of these unreported gatherings was $862,881 in fiscal 2014 and $2,822,561 in fiscal 2015.
Data provided in the report shows DHS held 433 conferences costing about $11.4 million in fiscal year 2014 and 478 conferences totaling roughly $10.4 million in 2015.
The audit was issued just weeks after the Office of Management and Budget announced it would no longer enforce the conference spending reporting requirement, as Government Executive noted. The new Trump administration justified the decision by asserting agencies had already put in place tighter internal controls.
“I don’t think anyone sees this as a license to start goofing off again,” OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said last month. “And if they do, they do so at their own peril.”