Hearing on Veterans Affairs conference spending turns combative

Veterans Affairs Department officials assured lawmakers during a hearing Wednesday that VA has taken measures to ensure it will not waste taxpayer dollars on lavish conferences such as two widely criticized human resources training events held in Orlando, Fla., in the summer of 2011. But the hearing turned contentious, with one Republican going as far as to say he “could care less about the bureaucrats” at VA.  

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee members on both sides of the aisle blasted the department for its lax oversight of the Florida conferences and for its inability to provide additional information about the events.

“Absent any clear response” to requests for information, said committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., “I am left to wonder whether VA, at best, has no reliable controls on its spending or, at worst, is hiding something from this committee.”

The department spent more than $6 million on two conferences in Orlando in July and August 2011, according to a report by the department’s inspector general. Auditors cited “serious lapses in oversight, judgment and stewardship” within Veterans Affairs.

VA Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould on Wednesday maintained that the conferences — held to improve human resources training — were valid in concept, but agreed they were unacceptable in execution.

“No one was more disappointed than [VA] Secretary [Eric Shinseki] and I,” Gould said.

He added VA is conducting a comprehensive review of its conference spending procedures and has implemented stronger oversight and additional accountability measures. When repeatedly challenged on how the excessive spending could have happened in the first place, Gould was less conciliatory, arguing the actions taken by a few involved in the conferences are not representative of the “320,000 hardworking VA employees.”

 

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