May 16 2008
Senator Coburn Releases Oversight Report on Agency's Conference Spending
"For the Farmers or for Fun: USDA Spends Over $90 Million on Conferences."
The American people expect USDA to spend its-almost $18 billion discretionary budget this year helping farmers and protecting the safety and health of the U.S. agricultural system. While USDA will meet some of those expectations, if history is any guide, it will also spend millions of dollars sending employees to conferences at resorts and casinos on taxpayers’ dime.
“For the Farmers or for Fun,” an oversight report released by Senator Tom Coburn, ranking member of the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee, examines questionable conference spending by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) — an agency which reported almost tripling its conference spending since 2000, to $19.4 million in fiscal year 2006.
In 2006, USDA sent 20,959 employees to 6,719 conferences and training activities across the nation and around the world (a 191 percent increase since 2000).
These included USDA employee trips to:
• “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” conferences in Las Vegas (pg. 11);
• A “Congressional” seminar on the workings of the U.S. Congress, located 4,500 miles away at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa (pg. 11);
• A pollution conference at a Virgin Islands resort (pg. 13);
• A conference on crawdads at Australia’s Surfers Paradise Resort (pg. 14); and
• A conference on fungus in Cairns, Australia (pg. 12).
USDA employees went long distance for:
• Approximately 59 separate conferences for 270 employees in Disney’s hometown, Orlando, Florida, at a cost of $282,656 (pg. 9);
• Approximately 94 separate conferences in Las Vegas (many at resort casinos) at a cost of $254,755 for 213 USDA employees (pg. 9); and
• Approximately 28 separate conferences in Hawaii for 64 USDA employees for a total cost of $130,600 (pg. 9).
The oversight report also includes:
• A graph showing USDA’s yearly conference budget from 2000-2006, which has increased by more than 191% (pg. 6);
• An update on Congressional activity and oversight regarding USDA conference spending (pg. 18); ; and
• Recommendations on what the agency could do to scale back its $19 million a year in conference costs (pg. 21).
USDA is not alone. The agency, the first in this conference oversight series, is just one among many federal agencies that has overspent on non-essential conferences and travel.
In fact, federal agency conference spending exceeded $2 billion from 2000 through 2006, increasing over 95 percent, from over $200 million a year in FY2000 to almost $400 million a year in FY2006. This does not include the costs from various independent federal agencies nor the productivity losses when government employees are out of the office on non-essential travel.
As part of his commitment to oversight of how Washington spends taxpayer dollars, Senator Coburn will continue releasing oversight reports on federal agencies. The Senator’s hope is that more and better oversight will assist federal agencies and those in Congress with responsibility for overseeing agency budgets, with reining in wasteful spending; demanding measurable results from programs and grantees; and with reevaluating current spending before asking politicians and taxpayers to send more scarce tax dollars.
Dr. Coburn encourages anyone who has examples of government waste to submit the information to his Web site tip line.
Or by mail to his subcommittee office:
Senator Tom Coburn, M.D.
Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Tipsters may remain anonymous.
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