In a statement emailed to Federal News Radio, VA said, “This parody should never have been produced and this misuse of taxpayer funds is completely unacceptable.”
VA also said it is cooperating with the VA Office of the Inspector General’s investigation into spending at the two conferences. A preliminary investigation by the VA OIG found conference attendees had benefited from spa treatments, concert tickets, helicopter and stretch limo rides. VA also spent $84,000 for VA-branded swag, including pens, highlighers, Post-It notes and hand sanitizer, according to the committee.
House VA Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said he has requested budgets for all VA conferences in the past three years “to see if these two conferences are an anomaly or are part of a bigger pattern.”
VA has said the conferences were for “legitimate training purposes,” according to a statement emailed to Federal News Radio earlier this week. Also, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has called for an outside independent review within 90 days of all training policies and conferences.
In an interview with Federal News Radio this week, Miller pledged he would hold hearings on the two conferences after the VA’s Office of the Inspector General releases a final report in September.
In the meantime, Miller and Committee Ranking Member Bob Filner (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to Shinseki seeking more information on VA conference spending, including how much the agency budgets for conferences. VA has offered conflicting amounts for conference budgets, from $20 million to $100 million, the letter said.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is also investigating more than 150 conferences since 2005. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) using the $823,000 regional conference hosted by the General Services Administration last as a “benchmark” for excessive conference spending. Conferences that cost more than $3,000 per attendee or $600 per attendee per day “raised a red flag,” Issa said.