Why we need the ACCOUNT ActPublished 9:35pm Monday, June 10, 2013
By Congressman Randy Forbes
One year ago, news broke about a conference hosted by the General Services Administration — but this was no ordinary work conference. As the story broke, we learned that the five-day Las Vegas conference cost taxpayers $822,000. The agency, tasked with holding government agencies accountable, flew 300 bureaucrats to a spa and casino, hosted a networking reception where they served 1,000 sushi rolls at $7 apiece and 400 pieces of petit beef wellington at nearly $5 apiece, and spent $44 per person on breakfast. Some reports said that the GSA hired clowns and mind-readers for conference entertainment purposes. Additionally, the GSA held several pre-conference “scouting” trips that totaled $130,000.
The conference became the epitome of an excessive and broken Washington. It left a bitter taste in the mouths of American taxpayers who were already frustrated at wasteful government spending. The conference left many asking a common sense question: at a time when our nation faces crushing debt and many families have found themselves cutting back on their own budgets, how was it possible that taxpayers were fronting the bill for a near-million dollar conference in Las Vegas?
Now this week, the IRS has apologized for dropping $4 million on a lavish conference in Anaheim, Calif., where employees supposedly learned how to be “open and transparent” when dealing with taxpayers. The money paid for lavish hotel rooms and expensive training videos. However, the IRS reportedly failed to keep accurate receipts, suggesting that the total cost for the conference could be more.
American taxpayers have found themselves asking the same question they asked last year: why are we fronting the bill for this?
It’s time we bring an end to extravagant government conferences. Just recently, I cosponsored a bill that would crack down on wasteful practices by increasing accountability for federal spending on conferences. Under the Agency Conferences and Conventions Operating Under Necessary Transparency (ACCOUNT) Act, a conference that costs more than $25,000 must be certified by the head of the agency as necessary to the agency’s core functions. The agency must also have details posted on the agency website within 30 days of the conference, including the purpose, total cost and cost per employee attending. Additionally, each agency would be required to submit a report on their conferences to the relevant Congressional committee for the fiscal year.
This simple but important step sets us in the right direction towards addressing wasteful spending and holding Washington bureaucrats responsible. Under the ACCOUNT Act, conference spending would be public and federal agencies would use taxpayer money more wisely with the American people watching.
American taxpayers deserve better. Responsible government must be transparent and accountable, and that means a full accounting of how the government spends its money.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.