The Department of Veterans Affairs may have spent more than $100 million for conferences last year, including two events in Orlando, Florida, according to a U.S. lawmaker.
The agency has provided conflicting reports on its conference budget for the year that ended Sept. 30, Representative Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, wrote in an Aug. 16 letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. The department also told the panel last year it may have put aside $20 million for events in 2011, the Florida Republican said.
The VA’s inspector general is reviewing spending at the two conferences held at a Marriott International Inc. resort near Walt Disney World that cost a total of about $5 million. The expenditures included about $52,000 for a video spoof of the Oscar-winning movie “Patton,” said Miller, who released a copy of the video today.
“I question the excessiveness in which taxpayer dollars are being used to fund multimillion-dollar conferences,” he said in a statement. Miller said he has requested “all budgets and materials” for VA conferences over the past three years.
The agency in February 2011 told the House committee that $20 million was budgeted for national conferences in fiscal 2011, and that $22 million was budgeted for the following year.
About nine months later, VA Chief Financial Officer W. Todd Grams said conference expenditures in fiscal year 2011 were “a little over $100 million,” compared with $92 million in 2009, the letter said.
“Mr. Secretary, it is essential that we be given factual information about VA’s conference spending,” Miller wrote in the letter.
The 15-minute “Patton” spoof posted on YouTube satirizes the opening scene from the real movie. In the short remake, an actor portraying George S. Patton, the World War II general, stands in front of an American flag and salutes.
“At ease,” he says. “Now some of you, I know, are wondering what someone like me is doing in a place like this talking to people like you. What I don’t know is why the hell you’d be surprised.”
The video also include comments from VA employees and veterans about the department and its human resources efforts.
Later in the video, the actor-general tells viewers he will see them “at eight sharp.”
“For those of you with no military experience, that’s 8 o’clock. For you ex-Army types, that’s 0800 hours,” he said. “For you Marines, Mickey’s big hand is on the 12 and his little hand is on the eight.”
The 1970 movie starred the late George C. Scott as Patton and won seven Academy Awards, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The parody of the film “should never have been produced and this misuse of taxpayer funds is completely unacceptable,” Nathan Naylor, deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, said in an e-mailed statement. “This event took place over a year ago and we have already adopted new rules that reflect our continuing commitment to safeguarding taxpayer dollars.”
The inspector general probe into the department’s events comes almost five months after a report found the General Services Administration spent more than $823,000 for a conference near Las Vegas. GSA Administrator Martha Johnson resigned amid fallout from the scandal.