The Washington Post

Inspector general begins probe of Postal Service conferences

The inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service has launched a review of the agency’s employee conferences to determine whether it has misused funds for the events.

Similar audits in recent years have exposed lavish spending by the General Services Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service.

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

“Conferences can be an effective method to communicate or plan for key events and significant changes within an organization,” the Postal Service inspector general’s office said in an announcement on Wednesday. “They can also be abused and subject to questionable spending and misuse of funds.”

Last year, the head of the GSA resigned amid reports of excessive spending on an event near Las Vegas that included a mind reader, a clown and a $38,000 reception. Overall, the conference cost the agency more than $800,000.

GSA claims it has saved millions of dollars with reforms the agency implemented after the scandal. It also canceled all of its major conferences for 2013.

As for the VA, the department spent $5 million on two 2011 conferences, according to an inspector general’s report last year. The agency held the events for legitimate training purposes, but investigators uncovered questionable activities, the report said.

The IRS also found itself in trouble for conference spending after an audit this year showed that the agency had spent more than $4 million to send 2,600 employees to a 2010 event in Anaheim that included a $50,000 Star Trek parody and a speaker who was paid $27,000. IRS officials apologized for the agency’s actions during a congressional hearing on the matter this year.

The Postal Service inspector general’s office has requested input from USPS employees, asking whether they feel conference costs and amenities were appropriate. Postal workers can submit comments through a page on the agency’s Web site.

The IG probe is scheduled to wrap up by April of next year, according to the agency’s announcement.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed or email josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.



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