In the summer of 2005, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security (Subcommittee), launched a government-wide inquiry into conference spending. As part of this examination, the Subcommittee asked federal agencies to report on their conference sponsorship and participation from fiscal years (FY) 2000 to 2005. The inquiry found that since FY 2000, federal agencies spent at least $1.4 billion underwriting or sending employees to conferences. The inquiry also revealed that federal agencies did not consistently or transparently track funds spent on conferences and related travel. In light of these findings, the Subcommittee expressed concern about the time, money, and human capital spent by federal agencies to sponsor conferences.
According to financial reports compiled by the Justice Management Division (JMD), during FY 2006 Department of Justice (DOJ) components spent a total of $45.9 million on conference-related activities, which included costs for general support, programming, and travel. Although this amount represented an increase of 34 percent compared to the $34.3 million DOJ components reported they spent during FY 2000, it is 21 percent less than the $58 million spent in FY 2004, as shown in Table 1-1.
DOJ CONFERENCE EXPENDITURES
FROM FY 2000 TO 2006
|Source: JMD reports on DOJ component conference expenditures|
Different federal statutes and regulations authorize agencies to sponsor conferences and meetings, the most relevant of which we discuss below.
Government Employees Training Act (Training Act)
Enacted in 1958, the Training Act gives federal agencies the general authority to train employees. Among its many provisions, this law authorized the use of conferences to meet identified training needs.15 The Training Act authorizes agencies to pay expenses incurred by employees attending meetings or conferences that are concerned with agency mission-related functions or activities. The Training Act also stipulates that a meeting or conference may be mission-related if it will contribute to the improved conduct, supervision, or management of mission-related functions.
Federal Travel Regulation
The General Services Administration (GSA) issued the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) to implement statutory requirements and federal travel policies for government employees and others attending conferences at public expense. The FTR, which defines a conference as a “meeting, retreat, seminar, symposium, or event that involves attendee travel,” holds conference-sponsoring agencies responsible for providing appropriate management oversight of the conference planning process.16
According to the FTR, an adequate planning process should minimize conference planning costs while maximizing the use of government-owned or publicly provided facilities. To minimize costs to the federal government, the planning agency should consider all costs, both direct and indirect, incurred by sponsoring the conference. These include: (1) attendee-related costs, such as travel per diem, lodging, and time required to travel to and attend the conference; (2) rentals for audio-visual and other equipment; (3) computer and telephone access fees; (4) printing; and (5) light refreshments. Additionally, the FTR requires that federal agencies develop and establish internal policies that ensure these conference planning standards are met.
DOJ Travel and Conference Policies
Individual DOJ components manage and approve their respective participation in conferences. The decision to host an event or send employees to attend a conference is subject to the availability of funds from individual component appropriations. However, JMD has played an increasingly important role in establishing uniform travel rules and conference policies that apply to all DOJ components. In July 2001, JMD issued a Temporary Duty Travel Guide (Travel Guide) for DOJ employees describing the DOJ’s travel reimbursement process. The Travel Guide also includes checklists to be used by officials who authorize travel, approve vouchers, and certify travel payments and examples of and instructions to forms required to authorize and pay travel expenses.
In addition, the Violence Against Women and DOJ Reauthorization Act of 2005 requires that each “predominantly internal” DOJ conference receive the approval of the Assistant Attorney General for Administration if it is to be held in a non-governmental facility.17 In January 2006, JMD issued guidance to DOJ components stating that a predominantly internal conference occurs when more than 50 percent of the attendees are DOJ employees. The approval requirement applies to all such events, regardless of anticipated size or expense.
In an effort to streamline the predominantly-internal conference review process, JMD established an internal Web site where DOJ conference planners and training officials can electronically submit pertinent information about each event for JMD review, follow-up, and approval. However, since the policy applies only to predominantly-internal conferences, conferences for non-DOJ employees, such as panel bankruptcy trustees, state and local law enforcement officials, or grant recipients, need not obtain JMD review or approval, even if they are large, national-scope events.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies requested that the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) perform an audit of the 10 most expensive DOJ conferences. The OIG agreed to conduct this review and examined the nine most expensive DOJ conferences held in the United States between October 2004 and September 2006 and the single most expensive international conference held during that time period, as identified by JMD records. For these conferences, our objectives were to review: (1) the justifications offered for the event; (2) the site-cost comparisons on where to hold the event; and (3) certain conference-related costs – including food and beverages, external event planning, and audio-visual – for compliance with applicable laws and regulations.18
This audit report contains 8 chapters. Chapter 2 explains how we identified and selected conferences to review and assessed their costs. Chapters 3 and 4 describe the conferences’ justifications and how sponsoring components documented required city and venue comparisons. We review and compare the methods used to hire event planners and their related costs in Chapter 5, while Chapters 6 and 7 describe the costs associated with providing food and beverages and audio-visual equipment and other related services. Chapter 8 discusses whether event planners appropriately charged and retained registration fees to defray conference costs.