September 30, 2020

“Followup on Conference Management at Selected Department Sites”

In support of its diverse science, energy, and national security missions, the Department of Energy sponsors and/or funds attendance of both Federal and contractor employees at a variety of conferences and meetings.  During the period October 1, 2016, through February 28, 2019, the Department’s Conference Management Tool (CMT) contained planning information for 858 events estimated to cost approximately $51 million.  These memoranda established and refined conference controls, including approval for high-cost events and requirements to report expenses.

While we found that the Department had taken steps to strengthen conference management, the Department had not fully implemented recommendations from the prior report.  Specifically, opportunities still exist to improve database accuracy and cost comparisons for conferences.  To the Department’s credit, we found that it had established procedures to ensure event exemptions are appropriately applied, and provided training for interpreting and applying established event exemptions.  Further, we did not identify any issues with the breakdown of food costs in conference approval packages.  However, despite these improvements, our testing revealed that the Department’s CMT still contained inaccurate attendance and/or cost incurred input entries by responsible personnel for Department element-sponsored conferences and did not always include evidence of adequate cost comparisons for Department element-sponsored conferences.  We also found that the Department’s monthly or quarterly reports and annual reports to the OIG contained inaccurate attendance and/or cost incurred data for Department element-sponsored conferences.

Inaccurate information in the Department’s CMT continues to impact the effectiveness of the Department’s management of conferences.  Although the inaccuracies and omissions discussed above did not materially impact the overall cost of conferences sponsored by the Department, the accuracy of the data input into CMT by responsible personnel and reported to the OIG is important to effective conference management by the Department.  Also, effective and continual use of cost comparisons is important to providing assurance that Federal funds are being spent efficiently, appropriately, and in the taxpayer’s best interest.

While it appears that the Department has taken steps towards improving conference management, more needs to be done to promote transparency and assure that Government funds are spent appropriately and efficiently.  Based on the issues identified in this report and the recurrence of previously reported issues, we believe that the Department can take additional steps to improve the monitoring and reporting of conferences.  To address the ongoing concerns outlined in our report, we made recommendations to the Deputy Secretary of Energy.