Topics: Veterans Affairs

UPDATED! VA paid millions to Reel Impact firm that made 'Patton' parody video

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More than $2 million has been paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to the production company that made a parody of the movie "Patton" for showing at agency conferences last year, according to federal spending records.

The spending records don't describe what the payments made since 2007 to Reel Impact Inc., of St. Louis, Mo., were used for beyond generic descriptions such as "audiovisual equipment and services rental for Federal Government education training conference."

The Washington Examiner reported Monday that the VA spent $52,000 on the Patton parody used at conferences in Orlando in July and August 2011. The total cost of those conferences was about $5 million.

A second video commissioned by the VA is partially posted on the company's Web site (but can also be seen in the embedded player below this story). The same actor who portrays Gen. George Patton this time plays a diner cook named "Doc Decision." He discusses health care delivery.

Though the segment runs 13 minutes, according to the company, only a little more than one minute is posted. The video is not dated so it's not clear when it was produced.

The cost of the diner video is not available from VA or on USAspending.gov, the federal government's main spending transparency web site.

What is listed is $2.05 million in total payments to Reel Impact by federal agencies since 2007. Aside from an $18,000 contract with the Department of Defense, all of the money came from the VA.

However, the company lists other federal agencies as current or former clients, including the U.S. Department of Energy and the Argonne National Laboratory, a federal facility operated by the University of Chicago for the energy department.

Case studies on the Reel Impact Web site describe the complexity of some of the videos. For the "Decision Diner," Reel Impact constructed restaurant dining room on a sound stage, and filled it with "extensive restaurant props including stoves, a refrigerator, a dishwasher, condiments, glasses, plates, food, carts, tables, etc."

The video for the Argonne lab featured a former Miss USA.

Company president Adam Crosley did not return a reporter's telephone calls seeking comment.

A VA spokeswoman said details on the payments were unavailable.

The VA conferences in Orlando are under scrutiny by the agency's Inspector General (IG) and at least two congressional committees, including the House Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Aside from the Patton parody, the agency spent $84,000 on items such as pens and highlighters bearing its logo.

VA officials from the Washington office also reportedly traveled to Nashville, Dallas and Orlando to scout conference locations.

The investigations began after two whistleblowers contacted the IG in April, according to an agency spokeswoman, who told the Examiner that only the 2011 conferences are under review.

The VA's costliest single payment to Reel Impact was for $101,482 for a one-year contract that ran through September 2010, according to the Federal Procurement Data System, another federal disclosure site. The service provided is described as "A/V support."

The VA held a trio of conferences in Las Vegas in the summer of 2010. All three dealt with delivery of healthcare services, the topic of the "Decision Diner" video.

Separate VA conferences at the Venetian Las Vegas Casino and Resort held in April and August cost a combined $445,876, according to documents obtained by the Examiner.

A third conference at Harrah's Las Vegas cost the agency $476,217.

UPDATE: The Reel Impact firm has removed the 'Decision diner' video from its web site this afternoon.

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Mark Flatten is a member of The Washington Examiner's special reporting team and can be reached at mflatten@washingtonexaminer.com. Jennifer Peebles is the newspaper's data editor. Reach her at jpeebles@washingtonexaminer.com.

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