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In The Loop
Posted at 01:42 PM ET, 06/06/2013

Lavish government conferences being clipped?


House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa , right, talks with the committee's ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, during Thursday’s hearing on IRS conference spending. (Charles Dharapak - AP)
Congress is having a wonderful, bipartisan time at a House government oversight committee hearing Thursday bashing the IRS over spending some $49 million on conferences between 2010 to 2012 — looking especially at that wonderful “Star Trek” parody video at a $4 million conference in 2010 in Anaheim, Calif.

And who can forget the Mother of All Conferences, the October 2010 General Service Administration’s $820,000, four-day, training junket at a luxury hotel in Las Vegas, featuring entertainment by a $3,200 mind reader, after-hours parties in 2,400-square-foot loft suites and a $7,000 sushi reception. Six planning trips cost about $130,000.

The ensuing uproar cost GSA administrator Martha Johnson and other top officials their jobs last year. Congress was outraged, the administration chagrined, and the media in hog heaven. Such great theater.

Alas, we may have seen the last of the glory days.

Loop Fans have doubtless found, back on pages 238 and 239 of their copies of the 240-page Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2013, a provision that requires all agencies, boards, commissions and so on “submit annual reports to their inspector general (or senior ethics officer)” for the “costs and contracting procedures related to each conference” costing over $100,000. (The Office of Management and Budget’s new guidelines also require deputy agency heads to approve such gatherings.)

It gets worse. The reports also must say what the conference purpose was, how many — but not who? — attended, and detailed costs on food and drink, audio-visual services, travel to and from, as well as procedures for awarding contracts, selecting hotels and so on.

Worse yet, 15 days after any conference costing more than $20,000, agency heads must notify the IGs of ethics officials of the date, location and number of employees attending.

All this may well have a decidedly chilling effect on such lavish and/or meaningless conferences.

Next thing you know, there’ll be similar legislation affecting congressional travel — including the cost of military jets and number of hours spent by military and embassy employees on the care, feeding and transporting of members, spouses and staff.

Well, maybe not.

By  |  01:42 PM ET, 06/06/2013

 
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