As military families around the nation are tightening their financial belt-buckles and have seen their pay and benefits used as a political football, the VA blew MILLIONS on a plush conference in Florida in 2011. This is now being exposed for the first time by Congress.
The total cost was $6.1 million and now reports are saying that AT LEAST $762,000 of that was mismanaged or wasted! This included $50,000 for a video spoof of the movie “Patton,” $836 for an employee to operate a karaoke machine and $98,000 on things like notebooks and water bottles.
If you are stunned by such waste on a conference, imagine the waste on bigger things!
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing materials and promotional items for a pair of conferences that cost taxpayers at least $6.1 million.
Included was $50,000 on a parody video of the Oscar-winning movie Patton and a request to have the Washington Redskins cheerleaders appear at a kick-off event.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a staff report Wednesday on the conferences held in 2011 at the “lavish” Marriott World Center Resort in Orlando near Disney World, which the report said included at least $762,000 in unauthorized and wasteful expenses. The VA paid $863 for an employee to operate karaoke equipment and $98,000 on items such as notebooks, water bottles, and “fitness walking kits,” among other materials.
“The VA’s primary mission is to serve the nation’s veterans in the most efficient manner possible,” the report said. “Any money wasted on events unrelated to that mission does a disservice to the veterans that the VA is meant to serve.”
Conference planners initially traveled to Nashville, Dallas, and Orlando to scout potential locations for the conferences. According to the report, the planners improperly accepted gifts from hotels they were considering, including meals, spa treatments, gift baskets, show tickets, and limousine and helicopter rides.
The planners also sought to “hype” the conferences, designed as training events for human resources employees, by organizing a pre-conference kick-off. When one of the VA marketing consultants was told in an email that the Redskins cheerleaders would be unable to attend the event but “ambassadors” would be available, the consultant asked about the appearance of the stand-ins.
“Could you please explain a little about them? As in do they wear uniforms? Have pom poms…etc,” the consultant wrote in an email.
The planners, who had access to a $450,000 marketing budget for the conferences, “guessed at budget figures, inflated expenditures, and purchased unnecessary items” unrelated to training employees, the report said. After planners inquired about the source of the money for the conferences, VA officials told them that “you don’t have anything to worry about” and “[w]e are a large agency with deep pockets.”