Agencies are spending significantly less money on federal conferences, which could amount to $500 million in annual savings across the government.
Increased oversight and tighter controls have led to a nearly 90 percent drop in conference spending since 2010 at four agencies, according to a report by Rep. John Mica (R- Fla.).
Internal Revenue Service conference spending decreased from $37.6 million in 2010 to $4.9 million 2012, and General Services Administration spending decreased from $10.9 million in 2010 to $1.3 million in 2012.
Conference spending at the Department of Veterans Affairs decreased from $86.5 million in 2011 to $7.5 million through the first nine months of fiscal 2012.
Defense Department spending on conferences decreased from $89 million in 2012 to $12.3 million through the first six months of fiscal 2013.
Mica began investigating how agencies allocate spending for conferences in 2009. At the time, “conference planners contracted with little regard for budgetary considerations,” Mica said in the report. His findings prompted more oversight into conference spending.
“These reforms and increased transparency have put departments and agencies on notice that wasteful spending on conferences will no longer be tolerated,” he said.
The report cited some examples of “frivolous and gratuitous expenditures.”
Attendees at an IRS All Managers Conference in Anaheim, Calif., collectively received $64,000 in gifts such as clocks, lanyards, mugs and plastic squirting fish.
VA spent approximately $98,000 at a Human Resources Conference on promotional items, including water bottles, giant teddy bears and hand sanitizers.
During a House hearing in October 2013, lawmakers sharply criticized VA’s spending, saying the money could have been used to improve services for veterans.
“Our veterans were abused, and I use that word carefully, but I use it deliberately” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Affairs.