Friday, June 14, 2013

Conferences -- Fed. Exec. Agencies wasting Taxpayer Money

We've been hearing about them in a steady stream over the past few years. Federal Agencies that fall under the Executive Branch are wasting taxpayer money. Many of these agencies cry over the so-called "sequester" cuts. They scream that they have to furlough workers, without pay, to meet the slimmed-down budgets.

Is this ploy, which seems a political stunt, really a necessity in order to reign in spending?

If we look at just the money wasted on conferences, it seems the "pain" is more caused by lazy accountants than by reality.

The Veterans' Administration paid millions for conferences last year. Much of that funding was intended to go towards care of wounded veterans. Instead, it went to hotel and entertainment for VA workers attending conferences.

Next, we have not just one, but two revelations of waste done by the IRS. The IRS is made up, mostly, of accountants. How they could fail to properly budget and save money is unfathomable. Perhaps it is because it wasn't there money they wasted, but ours. Perhaps it was because they felt that if they spent it all, they could just steal more of it from the American people. Folks, the IRS is the tax collector, Prince John, and the Shire Reeve (Sheriff) of Nottingham all rolled into one.

Let's review two of the biggest wastes done by the nation's bean-counters. First they paid a ridiculous amount for a Star Trek parody video they labelled as a "training film".

Then they made another "training video". That second video was for dance instruction. Why did the IRS bureaucrats need dance instruction? The video itself tells the reason. They needed to learn the dance to be prepared for another, upcoming conference.

That gets us to the Departmen-du-jour whose wasteful conferences have been exposed. The US Department of Justice! Yes, the nation's apex of law enforcement, who is responsible for investigating and prosecuting fraud against the US Government, and other federal felonies and capital crimes, may be guilty of them. The head of the DoJ is the Attorney General, Eric Holder.

Jamie Dupree exposes some of these outlandish conference expenditures in his article at the Atlanta Constitution Journal.

Mr. Dupree highlights this eyebrow-raiser:

The conferences included one in the Northern Mariana Islands where the Justice Department spent more than $105,000 that focused on violence against women - but no federal employees attended (there were 47 people there for the gathering.)

Let's review just a few of the others:

Bureau of Prisons -- Clinical Directors and Health System Administrators, Continuing Education.
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Dates: 8/27/2012 -- 8/31/2012
204 attendees
Cost: $249,881
Purpose: Continuing Education program for Clinical Directors and Health System Administrators with strong focus on clinical and administrative issues and updates in policies and best practices. 

That's about $1,225 per attendee. They could have cut that by about $1k per attendee by conducting an online conference. The price per attendee would be even lower, since they could have increased the audience to include those who could not attend.

Drug Enforcement Agency
International Drug
Location: Denpasar, Indonesia
From: 6/11/2012- 6/15/2012
DOJ/DEA Attendees: 30

Cost: $497,862
Justification/Purpose: Since 1983, the International Drug Enforcement Conference (IDEC) has brought Administration Enforcement Conference together the top drug law enforcement leaders and senior investigators from over 100 nations to a single venue where yearly agendas are set for cooperation, intelligence sharing and case prioritization. IDEC’s principal mission is to share drug-related intelligence, coordinate drug policies and develop joint operational strategies targeting the world’s most prolific Drug Trafficking Organizations. Each IDEC has proven successful in institutionalizing cooperation and reinforcing the commitment to fight drug trafficking and narco-terrorism on an international level. Total cost was $797,862, of which DEA funded $497,862 and $300,000 was non-DOJ funding. Because DOJ expenses did not exceed $500,000, an agency head's waiver was not required.

The first thing to note is that this did not require "an agency head's waiver" because it was less than half of a million dollars. Perhaps that is a good starting point for reform. Start requiring expenditures over $50,000 to need that paper-trail of authorized expenditures.

The cost to the DoJ was $2,138 below that $500k threshold. But the total cost to taxpayers was almost $800k. This was for 30 people. That is almost $27k per attendee. That is 30 lower-middle-income annual salaries. Let that sink in.

The stated purpose is a good one, if done effectively. Could this have been done more efficiently? Let's dare the DEA to put that question before a few Lean Six Sigma black-belts. If any are reading this article, please pipe up in the comments section with your assessments.

If the price of this conference could have been cut in half, 15 more border patrol agents could have been patrolling the Tex-Mex border and interdicting drug smugglers.

The rest of the 28-page spreadsheet report is available at this link. These are only the DoJ conferences that cost taxpayers over $100k.