VA wasted $762,000 on training conferences

The VA Inspector General's report was blunt about top officials at the agency.

"We concluded that the senior leadership accepted little responsibility for fiscal stewardship," the report read.

You can read the entire report here.

The report drew the expected response from Congress.

“Today’s findings by VA’s OIG demonstrate a clear lack of leadership and accountability when it comes to VA senior leadership being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

“It is blatantly clear that VA does not know how much it spends on conferences," Miller added in a statement.

Miller noted that while internal investigators found that over $762,000 had been wasteful spending for the two conferences - that almost matched the $823,000 tab run up by the GSA for its controversial 2010 gathering in Las Vegas.

Miller was also irked by the findings of this report, which showed that the VA gave the Congress conflicting numbers on how much money was spent at these conferences in 2011, initially telling lawmakers it was $5.1 million - but now investigators believe it is at least $6.1 million - and maybe more.

The report detailed how VA employees wrongly accepted gifts like hotel room upgrades, helicopter rides, spa treatments, massages, facials, limo services, golfing greens fees and tickets to shows.

$97,906 was spent on swag - promotional items like water bottles, USB hubs, fitness walking kits, pedometers, notebooks, duffel bags and more - all on the taxpayer's tab.

$43,018 in "special contribution awards" were given to 15 VA employees for their work on the conferences - basically a bonus for a job well done.

Investigators "identified $189,682 in questionable audiovisual costs" at the Orlando Marriott World Center hotel, which were added to the fixed-price contract that had been signed by the VA.

$16,500 was paid for production of a daily "Happy Face Video" by the conference hotel, which was basically filled with video highlights of the previous day.

But they didn't exactly focus on human resources training for the VA attendees.

"The daily videos included dancing, karaoke singing, and non-training activities," read the report.

Overall, investigators found no problems with the actual conferences, and their efforts to train various VA workers in human resources matters.

But the report said the extra costs and the big price tags should not have been part of the equation.

As for reaction from the Obama Administration, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, vowed to change how conferences are organized by the VA in the future.

"We will ensure that future efforts apply the lessons learned and build a foundation to improve upon conference planning, executive and accountability," Shinseki said.

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