The Pentagon's conference spending policy generally aligns with government wide standards, and in some instances, exceeds them, a review has determined.
The Office of Management and Budget's 2012 policy is the benchmark.
DoD requires senior-level review and and pre-approval of all conference-related costs, while OMB requires senior-level review of conferences only when the estimated costs exceed $100,000, according to the Government Accountability Office report. DoD also aligns with OMB policy by publicly reporting annual conference costs. In addition, the department requires quarterly internal reporting of conference costs.
Those costs should include "attendees' authorized travel costs and per diem, audiovisual and other equipment usage, and registration fees," the report noted. DoD's policy prohibits the use of department funds for entertainment at its conferences.
In fiscal 2012, DoD spent $89 million to host 295 conferences that met OMB's reporting threshold. The deputy secretary of defense signed waivers for four conferences that each exceeded $500,000, including a suicide prevention conference and a symposium on education for service members. The four conferences totaled nearly $6 million.
The Jan. 21 GAO report is based on questionnaire responses from 72 components and military commands and a review of 563 requests for conferences planned for the second and third quarters of fiscal 2013.
Conference spending across government came under scrutiny in 2012, following revelations of lavish conference spending by the General Services Administration. In May, OMB established guidelines that prohibit conferences in excess of $500,000, unless the agency head signs a waiver.
However, the secretary of defense delegated some responsibility for reviewing and approving conferences that is not explicitly granted by OMB's policy, GAO reported. "Despite these variances, some provisions within DOD's conference policy exceed OMB's requirements by providing additional detail for how to implement the conference approval process and requiring additional conference cost reporting."
But some DoD officials are raising concerns about the lengthy approval process, including reviews for conferences that don't cost DoD money or are less than $20,000. In November, DoD updated its policy and no longer requires approval for conferences that don't use DoD funds.