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Watchdog finds Senate yoga spending was a stretch

Architect of the Capitol inspector general probe says efforts to pay for instruction 'appear wasteful'

People perform yoga poses in the Upper Senate Park.
People perform yoga poses in the Upper Senate Park. (Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty Images)

The Architect of the Capitol spent more than $14,000 in taxpayer money to bring in a yoga instructor to teach free midday classes twice a week to a small group of Senate staffers — expenditures that “appear wasteful,” according to the agency’s inspector general.

The agency also paid $771 to an employee in the Senate Health and Fitness Facility to get certified to teach yoga to the staffers in 2021, an inspector general’s investigative summary states. That would have eliminated the need to spend $14,400 on the outside yoga teacher, but, as of October 2023, the employee never got the certification.

The inspector general investigated the yoga issue because of allegations that the payments to the private yoga instructor were split into several smaller purchases to avoid transaction purchase card limits, a prohibited practice known as split purchasing.

While the watchdog did not find evidence to substantiate that accusation, the summary did express concern that taxpayer money was being spent for a service that already existed on the House side. That summary was made public in December.

In total, the inspector general “identified both the multiple payments associated with the yoga instructor and the unfinished training certification amounting to $15,171.63, as Funds for Better Use.”

The AOC’s Health and Fitness Facility Branch on the Senate side has six full-time employees, and none are certified to teach yoga, the summary states. On the House side, the AOC offers individual and group yoga classes taught by full-time AOC employees at the House Members’ Wellness Center.

Before COVID-19 hit, the Senate had a contract in place to provide yoga instruction at the Senate Health and Fitness Facility, but that teacher couldn’t return after the pandemic because of a scheduling conflict, the inspector general found.

The Senate employee tasked with finding the yoga teacher reached out to several area vendors but had trouble finding someone because of the tight schedule requirements, the summary found.

Eventually, that employee hired the yoga instructor who would be paid through a government purchase card while the agency worked out a long-term contract, a process staff in an AOC division were in the loop on to ensure the classes were being funded, the summary states.

There were six processed credit card orders paid to the yoga teacher from May 2022 to March 2023 for $2,400 each — a total of $14,400, the summary states.

And while the yoga teacher was providing classes to the Senate staffers, that person was employed full time by another agency. AOC Inspector General Christopher Failla’s office referred any potential violations to that agency’s inspector general, which was not disclosed in the summary.

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