The U.S. Office of Inspector General is urging the Department of Homeland Security to have greater oversight and controls over money spent on conferences. Among the OIG's recommendations is for DHS to explore technological alternatives to conference-related travel—something DHS officials are already doing, according to testimony before the U.S. House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight on February 4.

According to the OIG's November 2009 report, "DHS Conference Spending Practices and Oversight," DHS spent $110 million on conferences from 2005–2007. Among the report's 12 recommendations for improving management of conference spending are:

  • develop conference planning and attendance guidelines
  • develop a methodology to report on conference-related costs,
  • develop a system to ensure compliance with federal policies on meals and travel expenses, and
  • explore using more cost-effective means and technologies as alternatives to sponsoring conference-relatedtravel.

These recommendations have been accepted and many are already being implemented. In October 2008, DHS created a conference-planningpolicy and issued guidelines for DHS employees attending conferences. In March 2009, DHS launched an "Efficiency Review Initiative" to cut expenses and streamline operations.

"The Department encourages and supports employee participation in federal and non-federal meetings and conferences. Such events are excellent means to exchange and communicate ideas and knowledge. However, there is also a need to ensure that attendance at meetings and conferences is mission-critical, as prescribed in management directives and other policies," stated Elaine Duke, under secretary for management at DHS, in her testimony before the House Subcommittee on February 4. "Specifically, every effort should be made to conduct meetings, conferences, and training using the least costly method to the government. DHS will ensure all travel is essential in carrying out its mission and will make every effort, using means such as conference calls, local-area events, and Web-based communications, to reduce costs to the government."

She cited several examples of cost containment, including a Web conference for 600 people that saved $10,000. DHS also conducted local and Web-based training for U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff that saved $640,000 and, for another training event, used Army facilities instead of hotels to save $188,000. DHS has also used video and teleconferences to save money.

Commenting on the hearing, Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, applauded the subcommittee for "affirming the economic and performance benefits" of participating in conferences. "A recent Oxford Economics study on the return on investment of government-related travel demonstrated that an increase in government business travel spending of $1 million will increase government worker productivity and therefore output by between $4.6 million and $6.3 million," Dow stated.

"We agree that effective management of resources dedicated for conferences and events will help to maximize each trip taken and is important for government agencies to evaluate the return on investment. We're heartened to know the Department of Homeland Security has accepted the Inspector General's recommendations and is making every effort to instill greater accountability where necessary in its future travel practices."