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Jeanne Shaheen Wants Audit of All Government Conferences

In the wake of a General Services Administration conference that cost more than $800,000, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) has written to all 15 Cabinet-level agencies seeking any information from investigations into conference spending and requesting that the agencies perform audits to ensure such spending does not run afoul of the law.

“I request that you provide my office with any investigations of conference spending your office has produced and, if you have not examined such spending in detail, that you perform an audit of any questionable conference expenses to ensure taxpayer funds have been spent in accordance with federal law and regulations,” Shaheen wrote in a letter to agency inspectors general.

Her letter comes after it emerged that the GSA put on a $823,000 Las Vegas-area conference for 300 of its employees in 2010. It is alleged that Jeff Neely, a top GSA administrator, spent $2,700 in taxpayer money on a party in a hotel suite and hired a clown and a mindreader to perform. At a House hearing last month, Neeley declined to answer questions about the conference and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

As a result of the scandal, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson has resigned, two officials have been fired and the agency has canceled a couple of future meetings in Las Vegas.

A recent GSA inspector general investigation “revealed a significant lack of accountability at GSA and detailed numerous instances of waste and excess that violated federal procurement law and the agency’s own policies,” Shaheen said.

She praised the White House for seeking to improve transparency of federal spending, including an executive order issued last year directing all federal agencies to reduce spending on conferences and travel by 20 percent by fiscal 2013, as well as launching websites to increase public access to how federal funds are spent.

“Despite these significant reforms, the scale of GSA’s wasteful spending and the participation of the agency’s leadership in creating a culture of excess necessitate that we ensure conference expenses in other federal government agencies are entirely appropriate and necessary,” Shaheen said. “I hope you will agree that as American families are struggling to make ends meet, we must remain vigilant and act quickly to uncover and stop any other instances of wasteful expenditures.”

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