Recent news of General Service Administration officials’ wasteful spending at a 2010 training conference is an example of how taxpayer dollars can go up in smoke at the hands of the very people entrusted with guarding it.

But sometimes the fleecing of taxpayers is an outside job.

Late last year, it was reported that food service providers were overcharging the Defense Department for providing food to soldiers abroad, as well as gouging the National School Lunch Program.

If the government is fleeced when feeding those most vulnerable, there are likely myriad instances of vendors overcharging the government for award ceremonies and training events.

When the GovLoop community was asked whether they believe government is ever overcharged for services, one responder said he has seen instances of hotels overcharging government employees based on per diem.

“Hotels know the per diem and charge up to and a little over it. Meals at conferences are also ridiculously priced. For example, I attended a conference where a breakfast buffet - comparable to the free breakfasts offered by major hotel chains - was billed at $20 per person. This is unreasonable for fake eggs, bacon and cereal.”

One proposed solution was to have the government use its own facilities to host conferences, and sharing services across jurisdictions.

“In addition to shared facilities across federal agencies, I think it would be valuable to consider a cross-jurisdictional shared service approach,” said Mark Sullivan, a senior workforce policy manager at the Washington state Office of Financial Management. “Part of the value in holding conferences is in sharing ideas and information across federal, state and local lines, and many states and cities operate government-owned convention centers. In a world of limited (and decreasing) resources, it seems prudent to leverage economies of scale beyond our own walls.”

Virtual conferences are also money-savers, as the U.S. Forest Service has demonstrated.The Sustainable Operations Summit conference held by the Forest Service in February saved an estimated $1 million by using virtual means to draw participants. This savings came from eliminating food, lodging and travel expenditures. The conference was partially in-person, but the U.S. Forest Service is considering all-virtual conferences in the future.

Corey McCarren is a fellow at GovLoop, the Fed Page’s Federal Buzz partner site.

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