The chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee today pushed Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, retired General Eric Shinseki, to clarify conflicting testimony about VA conferences.
Most at issue are a pair of multi-million dollar conferences held in Florida last year, which featured two eight-minute “Patton-styled” videos at a price tag of $52,000.
The videos were released on YouTube today by the House Committee; they depict an actor emulating the opening scene in the 1970 film “Patton,” a biopic of the World War II-era U.S. Army commander.
“Now, it’s true that VA innovations in HR don’t often get the front page attention that the ones in our medical facilities and our benefit offices do,” the Patton impersonator says in praise of human resource managers. “But you know as well as I do that those headline grabbing improvements couldn’t happen and wouldn’t last without the improvements and the innovations that you people have made, are making and will continue to make.”
Some of the preliminary findings of the investigation include $3,000 spent for two photographers and $84,000 for VA-branded promotional items including $20-25,000 for pens, highlighters with post-it note, and hand sanitizer. The committee also found that conference attendees may have received alcohol, gift baskets, concert tickets, embroidered pillow cases, stretch limousines, helicopter rides, and spa treatments.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, today said, “I question the excessiveness in which taxpayer dollars are being used to fund multi-million dollar conferences.”
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs responded today saying, “This parody should never have been produced and this misuse of taxpayer funds is completely unacceptable. This event took place over a year ago and we have already adopted new rules that reflect our continuing commitment to safeguarding taxpayer dollars.”
The estimated cost of the events is between $3 and $9 million.
Miller said the committee will continue to investigate the conferences, and he has requested all budgets for VA conferences over the past three years to see if the two conferences were an anomaly or the norm.
The findings come after the head of the General Services Administration stepped down in April over revelations of lavish spending at a 2012 Las Vegas conference.
-Jake Tapper and Kyle Blaine