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Topics: Veterans Affairs

Watchdog: Issa demands answers from VA on 'Patton' parody

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Gen. George Patton probably would not be pleased with a parody video paid for with tax dollars by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But there is no doubt about where U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa stands on it.

Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wants detailed documents from the VA on its spending on two conferences in Orlando last year that cost a combined $5 million.

Particularly irksome to Issa is the $52,000 allegedly spent by the VA to pay a professional actor and production company for an 18-minute video satirizing the opening scene of the 1970 film for which George C. Scott won an Academy Award. (See the original scene from the film in the embedded video player below.)

Issa wants a copy of the satire and an explanation. In a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Issa called allegations about the Orlando conferences "eerily similar" to those involving the scandalous 2010 General Services Administration (GSA) conference in Las Vegas.

That gathering became infamous after the GSA Inspector General (IG) revealed in April that top administrators wasted taxpayer money on private parties, unnecessary pre-conference travel and gimmicks like a $75,000 bicycle building exercise.

In the letter sent last week to Shinseki, Issa noted that even before the GSA scandal, President Obama warned federal officials that "you cannot take a trip to Las Vegas or go to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime."

Issa said that rebuke from the president in 2009 "should have deterred event organizers at GSA and VA from wasting taxpayer dollars on things like mind readers, clowns and Patton parody videos."

Improper expenses appear to extend beyond Patton parodies, according to Issa, who met with Shinseki to discuss the allegations of conference waste earlier this month.

The VA allegedly spent $84,000 on promotional items such as pens, highlighters and hand sanitizer. At least seven agency officials in Washington also took government-paid trips to Nashville, Dallas and Orlando to scout out conference locations.

Some VA officials may also have received improper gifts from hotels under consideration as conference sites, including show tickets and helicopter rides, according to Issa.

The VA investigation began in April, according to Catherine Gromek, spokeswoman for the department's IG. Tipsters contacted the office's hotline to report excessive spending on the two human resources training conferences held in July and August 2011 at the Marriott World Center in Orlando.

Issa demanded detailed conference spending records from 24 cabinet departments and federal agencies in April, about a week after the GSA report was issued.

In his letter to Shinseki, the congressman noted the VA had yet to deliver the documents.

VA spokesman Joshua Taylor declined to comment on the IG investigation.

A written statement issued previously by VA called the allegations of waste "unacceptable," and said Shinseki vowed to "hold accountable any individuals who are found to have misused taxpayer dollars or violated our standards of conduct."

The VA also has stripped all purchasing authority from any employee in the unit under investigation.

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Contact Mark Flatten at mflatten@washingtonexaminer.com.

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