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Did The Energy Department Use Taxpayer Dollars To Sponsor A Casino Night?

Like energy and gambling? Well, a government watchdog report found that the Energy Department may have sponsored several events in the past couple of years that could lead to “negative public perceptions,” including a casino night, a Super Bowl party and dinner on a cruise boat.

“Our review also identified conference information, regarding social events that in our view, could lead to negative public perceptions,” the Energy Department’s inspector general wrote in a recent report. “Existing guidance notes that participation in any associated social events should be limited and restrained to the greatest degree practicable to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”

“Despite this admonition, we found that attendance at some conferences included associated social events,” the inspector general’s report found. “For example, the [events database] showed Department-sponsored conferences that included a casino night, Super Bowl party, golf tournament, banquet on a dinner cruise boat, dinner at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and a tour and dinner at an aquarium.”

But Energy Department officials told investigators these events were “incorrectly entered” into the department’s event management database as sponsored events when they should have been designated as “cosponsored or not sponsored at all.”

Department officials also told the inspector general’s office they had “little control over associated conference social events in such situations.” The DOE said it would correct these mislabelings in its database.

The IG’s office looked at information for 329 DOE-sponsored conferences held between January 2014 and September 2014, building on past watchdog reports that DOE was having trouble keeping records on its events. Since April 2013, DOE spent $21 million on conferences costing more than $20,000. The DOE also held 16 conferences costing more than $100,000 — all told, these expensive events cost taxpayers more than $3 million.

The report says that DOE may have overspent on events by using non-federal facilities, like hotels, as opposed to using more cost-effective venues like federally owned facilities. The IG report found there was “no indication in the [events database] whether Department organizers had considered using a federal facility, and in some cases, justification was questionable.”

“For example, there was no indication that a federal facility was considered for a conference held in Berkley, California, at a cost of $29,475,” the report found. “Additionally, a conference was held at a Washington, DC, hotel costing $63,802, including meeting space cost of $15,000.”

DOE officials said using non-federal facilities for events were more conducive “to an efficient flow of conversation and development of concepts.” But Office of Management officials agreed with the IG in that such a justification was still questionable.

“[W]e found that Department organizations did not always enter the cost for sponsorship fees for conferences,” the IG reported. “Specifically, of the 151 conferences we reviewed in the greater than $20,000 cost category, 5 conferences, totaling about $195,000, included only travel cost, and there was no indication whether fees… were waived, even though the [events database] indicated that the Department had sponsored these conferences.”

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