The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Department of Veterans Affairs Conferences: Where Government Employees' Dreams Come True

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On October 30, 2013, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing regarding wasteful spending at two conferences by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The two agency events were held in Orlando, Florida and cost taxpayers a minimum of $6.1 million, according to a September 30, 2012 report released by the VA inspector general.  Some examples of profligate conference spending included:

  • $50,000 for a 15-minute video spoofing the movie “Patton.”
  • $98,000 for small items, including pedometers, notebooks and water bottles.
  • $43,000 in cash bonuses and paid time-off to the employees who helped plan the conference.

In addition to the above expenses, employees that helped plan the event received a wide-array of gifts from vendors, such as Rockettes tickets, massages and helicopter rides.

In response to a question during the October 30, 2013 hearing from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the deputy IG for the VA stated that it is unclear just how much money was spent at the conferences.  Given that these conferences occurred two years ago, the inability of the VA to produce a firm cost-estimate for the two conferences is evidence of just how poorly planned these conferences were.  It is startling to consider that $6.1 million might be a conservative estimate of how much was spent.

During the hearing, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) made the point that as egregious as this conference spending is on its own, the spending is even more reprehensible when considering the massive backlog of veteran's disability claims.  According to data from an October 2013 Veterans Benefits Administration report, the backlog of VA disability claims over 4 months old stands at 405,656.  At a time when hundreds of thousands of veterans are waiting months and sometimes years to receive the disability compensation that they are owed, it is imperative that the VA takes steps to ensure that it is spending taxpayer dollars efficiently.  Shining light on wasteful spending through hearings is  a good start, but hopefully the VA will use the lessons learned from these conferences to implement effective procedures to eliminate excessive spending altogether.

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