WASHINGTON -- Wasteful spending at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was in the spotlight again on Wednesday, as U.S. House lawmakers took aim at two over-the-top conferences held in Orlando in 2011 that cost taxpayers at least $6.1 million.
Major tenets of this case have been known for more than a year, including how at least $762,000 was wasted on "questioned costs," including $50,000 for a parody vide of the movie "Patton" meant to boost morale. But members of the House oversight committee said a follow-up investigation, which was released this week, furthers the case that VA employees involved in the Orlando conferences cared little about being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Emails included in the latest investigation quote VA employees as saying that the department was a "large agency with deep pockets" and that "obviously the money is not an issue." Though it's been two years since the Orlando conferences, and a year since an independent investigation into them, lawmakers seized on these quotes and the incident generally to engage in one of Capitol Hill's most popular sports: beating up bureaucrats.
He said VA spending on conferences in 2011 totaled nearly $87 million. By comparison, spending on VA conferences in just nine months of 2012 (the timeline of data in which the VA supplied to the committee) was just a fraction of that: about $7.5 million, he said.
Though there was disagreement on how much the VA has cleaned up its act since then, one top VA official testified that the department has instituted new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the waste at the Orlando conferencs, including more oversight from VA executives.
"The department has instituted sound policies and provided clear guidance to individuals within VA responsible for the approval, planning and execution of conferences," said Gina Farrisee, assistant VA secretary for human resources and administration.