Since 2004, taxpayers have picked up the tab for at least 153 conferences that cost more per person than the Las Vegas party that cost the head of the General Services Administration (GSA) her job.
“It was the hope of Members of the Committee that the GSA conference was an outlier by any metric designed to quantify the waste and abuse that occurred there,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (OGR) Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today. “It was not.”
The Department of Defense held 64 conferences, between 2005 and 2011, that cost more than either $3,000 per attendee or $600 per each day of a person’s attendance. Per OGR’s investigation so far, the Social Security Administration has hosted the second-highest number of the high-dollar conferences (22), while the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) comes in third with 21 events that cost more per person than the GSA’s Las Vegas conference.
That GSA conference “included the hiring of a mind reader” and a $75,000 team building exercise, according to Issa’s letter.
“It is important to note that we are not prejudging the importance and usefulness of these conferences, instead we seek additional information to enable the Committee to determine if expenditures were appropriate or taxpayer dollars were wasted,” Issa said in his letter.
The United States Department of Agriculture has held 15 such conferences since 2005, according to a committee letter. The Interior Department (9), the Department of Health and Human Services (8), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (5), the U.S. Department of Education (2), and the Small Business Administration (2), have also received letters of inquiry (sent in July, like all the other letters mentioned here except for Panetta’s) for the conferences they hosted that triggered the cost benchmarks established by OGR in light of the GSA’s Las Vegas conference. (GSA, by the way, has hosted 5 other conferences that cost as much or more as the Las Vegas event.)
GSA’s Las Vegas conference cost $823,000 total.