Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Representative Corrine Brown
Good morning everyone, and thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on VA’s conference spending. I’m sure our veterans and the American people are anxiously waiting to hear from the VA about the two multimillion-dollar conferences.
This is not the first scandal involving lavish conference spending by a federal agency. The General Services Administration (GSA) spent more than $800,000 at a Las Vegas conference in which they paid $6,000 for commemorative coins, $58,000 for audio-visual services, $146,000 on food, and included a clown and mind reader, a yearbook. At the time, we thought this was an example of outrageous and wasteful spending.
GSA was supposed to ensure good stewardship of the taxpayer dollar and be the prime model of transparent government for other agencies, but it failed miserably, primarily because it did not have adequate oversight over its own policies and procedures.
Unfortunately, not long after their debacle, we learned about the VA’s own conference indiscretions. By now we are all too familiar with the details; reportedly two lavish VA training conferences that cost over $6 million dollars and included the now famous Patton parody videos, unnecessary promotional items, travel expenses, and much more.
Our witnesses today may not have been involved in the conference’s financial and planning decisions, but they were in positions of authority to approve the conference budget. I truly hope that these two conferences are not just the tip of an iceberg of misjudgment and wasteful spending, but rather, are found to be two isolated incidents from which the agency can learn.
We already know that VA’s processes, and the oversight mechanisms that were in place were insufficient, and that management failed to review and monitor the expenses of the conferences. The question is, how do we fix that? And how do we ensure that it doesn’t happen again? We are looking to be assured that, going forward, VA senior leadership approaches spending taxpayer dollars with the same care and attention they would approach spending their own money.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Office Inspector General report, Administrative Investigation of the FY 2011 Human Resources Conferences in Orlando, Florida, identified several problem areas and outlined recommendations. Following the report, Secretary Shinseki agreed with the recommendations, and his Chief of Staff, Mr. Gingrich, took responsibility for his role in allowing these excesses. Therefore, I hope that today’s hearing will focus on how the VA will modify their procedures and implement policies to establish budgetary control and ensure that future conference budgets are appropriate.
I look forward to hearing today’s testimony. Thank you and I yield back.