Defense Department Misfires on Conference Spending
Policy + Politics

Defense Department Misfires on Conference Spending


How many government bookkeepers does it take to put a line item in a spread sheet named “conferences”? 

Pentagon officials don’t really know how much they spent on conferences in 2013 – but auditors think it’s a lot more than the agency is claiming. 

In a new report from the Defense Department’s inspector general, auditors have detailed a rash of inconsistencies and errors in the Pentagon’s report on conference expenses for 2013. The IG said DOD reported spending $20 million on 80 conferences in 2013, but auditors who reviewed a sample of those expenses believe officials understated the money – and the number of conferences.

Related: Why the DoD Can’t Balance Its Books

The auditors looked at expense reports for eight conferences that totaled about $2 million and found a number of accuracy issues, especially with travel expenses that accounted for about 74 percent of total conference spending. The report said officials couldn’t verify travel costs for five of the eight conferences. 

As an example, DOD reported that one of its offices spent about $1 million in travel expenses on just three conferences. Yet when auditors tried to verify the claim, officials from that office couldn’t say which employees attended the conferences.   

Auditors blamed the DOD for not sufficiently overseeing its expense reports and failing to verify them. Three conferences weren’t even reported by the agency because apparently someone had difficulty electronically submitting the expenses, which totaled $1.7 million. 

Auditors concluded the Pentagon needs to beef up its oversight of conference expenses, recommending that DOD maintain documentation to support conference costs. 

Related: Pentagon Didn’t Report $145 Million Improper Payments

While the Pentagon concurred with the recommendation, this is not the first time auditors have pinpointed issues with the DOD’s financial reports. 

Last week auditors said the agency had failed to mention $145 million in improper payments to its military health program in its annual financial statements.

The sprawling Defense Department has long been scrutinized for its questionable recordkeeping practices – and it’s been more than two decades since the agency has been successfully audited.

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