Mil­lions spent on se­cu­rity re­treats, sem­i­nars

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY AU­DREY HUD­SON

Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials spent tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to at­tend sem­i­nars and re­treats in­clud­ing a FEMA meet­ing in Hawaii, an im­mi­gra­tion con­fer­ence in Sin­ga­pore and an un­der­wa­ter tun­nel pro­tec­tion gath­er­ing in Lon­don, just to name a few.

The detailed ex­penses are from an in­spec­tor gen­eral re­view re­quested by the chair­man of the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, who was con­cerned about the depart­ment and its spending prac­tices.

The re­view said $110 mil­lion was spent from 2005 through 2007 for such meet­ings, in­clud­ing $50 mil­lion for salary ex­penses for more than 8,000 em­ploy­ees who at­tended the con­fer­ences.

“With no one keep­ing track of con­fer­ence spending at DHS, this $100 mil­lion binge is un­ac­cept­able,” said Rep. Ben­nie Thomp­son, Mis­sis­sippi Demo­crat. “DHS has a mis­sion to pro­tect the home­land, and to do that, le­git­i­mate travel is clearly ap­pro­pri­ate.”

The re­port, which was re­leased on the evening of Dec. 17, found there are no spending lim­its for the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment set by Con- gress or by in­ter­nal reg­u­la­tion or agency pol­icy, to de­ter­mine how much can be spent to at­tend con­fer­ences.

The Coast Guard was the big­gest spen­der at more than $30 mil­lion in a two-year pe­riod, fol­lowed by Im­mi­gra­tion and Custom En­force­ment, which spent more than $20 mil­lion in three years.

The Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency spent nearly $18 mil­lion in a two-year pe­riod, in­clud­ing a May 2007 gath­er­ing at the Mar­riott on Waikiki Beach, which cost $176,094.

“What trou­bles me is ex­trav­a­gant spending when we need th­ese funds to re­build the Gulf Coast and strengthen bor­der se­cu­rity,” Mr. Thomp­son said.

The Lon­don con­fer­ence on re­cent de­vel­op­ments in un­der­wa­ter tun­nel se­cu­rity cost $100,000, and the IG re­ports only three par­tic­i­pants at­tended the three­day event in June 2007 from the of­fice of the Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Direc­torate.

The re­port also found that the depart­ment had a “gen­eral in­abil­ity” to pro­duce pre­cise or con­sis­tent in­for­ma­tion, which gave “lit­tle as­sur­ance that all con­fer­ences and costs were ac­counted for prop­erly.”

“DHS of­fi­cials said there is no rea­son to track con­fer­ence ex­pen­di­tures be­cause there are

The re­view said $110 mil­lion was spent from 2005 through 2007 for such meet­ings, in­clud­ing $50 mil­lion for salary ex­penses for more than 8,000 em­ploy­ees who at­tended the con­fer­ences.

no spending re­stric­tions,” the re­port said.

An­other of­fi­cial told the IG that the only ben­e­fit to tracking costs is so they can re­port it to Congress.

The depart­ment has “a fidu­ciary and strate­gic re­spon­si­bil­ity for es­tab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing in­ter­nal con­trols to achieve ef- fec­tive and ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tions and re­li­able fi­nan­cial re­port­ing.”

The IG also found dis­crep­an­cies in re­ports to Congress it said were “un­in­ten­tional.” For ex­am­ple, the IG found that $2 mil­lion more was spent in 2005 than ini­tially re­ported.

It was re­ported that 13 FEMA em­ploy­ees at­tended the Hawaii con­fer­ence, but the IG found that 32 em­ploy­ees at­tended. The widest dis­crep­ancy came from a Coast Guard Aids to Nav­i­ga­tion con­fer­ence in Everett, Wash. The agency re­ported 22 at­ten­dees, but the IG put the num­ber at 175. The to­tal cost for the con­fer­ence was listed at less than $23,000.

The IG made a dozen rec­om­men­da­tions in­clud­ing new re­port­ing and method­ol­ogy pro­ce­dures as well as cost-ben­e­fit analy­ses, with which the depart­ment con­curred. It also rec­om­mended that the un­der­sec­re­tary for man­age­ment as­sume over­sight re­spon­si­bil­ity of such con­fer­ences in the fu­ture.

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