More than half of the conference spending reported by the Commerce Department in the first quarter of fiscal 2012 was based on estimated and unsupported costs, according to a new inspector general report.
The IG found that 65 percent or $1.1 million of the total $1.7 million in conference spending reported by Commerce was not based on actual costs for things such as meals and incidental expenses, transportation and lodging costs. This also included budgeted expenses that the department could not provide sufficient documentation for.
Some bureaus said they used estimates because the actual expenses were not available at the end of the reporting quarter, or they had not received invoices, according to the Oct. 17 report.
However, the IG found instances where actual cost data was available at the bureaus but not submitted.
Census Bureau, International Trade Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office reported more than $1.7 million in spending for 24 conferences in the first quarter of fiscal 2012, the report said.
“The department accepted bureau’s conference spending data with only limited validation of the reported data and planning procedures, which resulted in incorrect reporting for select conferences,” the report said.
Two of the five bureaus over-reported some conference costs by a combined total of about $37,000 and under-reported other costs by more than $70,000, the report found. For example, the bureaus under-reported their transporation costs by nearly $28,000.
A 2012 appropriations provision requires the department to submit quarterly reports on conference spending to the IG. When the provision was enacted last year, the department had not fully developed policies or processes for doing the quarterly reports.
Since then, however, the IG noted that Commerce has created written policies for reporting conference spending and has made other drastic changes.
In a response letter to the IG, Commerce’s chief financial officer, Scott Quehl, said the act that requires Commerce to report conference spending does not make the distinction between reporting estimated and actual costs, but Commerce will review the IG’s concerns.
Quehl also said a comprehensive policy with guidance for requesting conference pre-approval, quarterly reporting and other related matters is undergoing final review.
IG recommendations for Commerce include:
– Strengthen operating policy to ensure bureaus accurately report actual conference spending, identify estimated costs and update them when actual costs become available.
– Require bureaus to maintain supporting documentation for costs incurred, planning considerations and decision justifications.
– Acquire assurance from bureaus that all required conferences are included in quarterly reports.
– Develop a process to examine questionable costs and document results.