- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2015

Cruise-boat dinners, Super Bowl parties and golf tournaments were part of Department of Energy conferences that cost taxpayers more than $21 million over a 16-month span, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.

The report examined more than 300 Energy Department conferences held from April 2013 through September 2014 and found that, in at least some instances, work wasn’t the only thing on the agenda.

“Our review also identified conference information regarding social events that in our view could lead to negative public perceptions. Existing guidance notes that participation in any associated social events should be limited and restrained to the greatest degree practicable to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” the inspector general said in the report.

“Despite this admonition, we found that attendance at some conferences included associated social events. For example, [Energy Department documents] showed department-sponsored conferences that included a casino night, Super Bowl party, golf tournament, banquet on a dinner cruise boat, dinner at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a tour and dinner at an aquarium,” the report said.

The report went on to say that Energy Department officials claim improper records make it appear as if the department fully paid for such activities, when in reality it did not. Officials told the inspector general that the banquets, parties and other after-work functions should be listed as “co-sponsored” by the department or “not sponsored at all.”

“Further, federal officials told us they have little control over associated conference social events in such situations,” the report says.

The review does not break down how much was spent on each conference nor how much taxpayer money may have been used for parties, dinners or similar activities.

The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Furthermore, the report found that the Energy Department may have wasted tens of thousands of dollars by renting out meeting spaces when existing federal facilities could’ve been used instead.

For example, in the inspector general said that one conference, costing more than $63,000, was held at a Washington hotel rather than the department’s nearby complex in Southwest D.C.

Renting the hotel meeting space cost about $15,000, the review says.

“The justification for using a nonfederal facility was because the department’s headquarters site was ‘not conducive to an efficient flow of conversation and development of concepts,’” the report reads.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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