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Audit Reports


DOT’s Conference Spending Policies Reflect Federal Requirements, but Ineffective Controls Do Not Ensure Compliance

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In recent years the President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have issued guidance, and the Congress has enacted legislation to promote efficient spending and curb conference-related costs in the Federal Government. We conducted an audit to determine whether the Department of Transportation (DOT) has implemented effective internal controls over conference-related activities and expenses to ensure compliance with these requirements.

DOT’s policies on conference spending reflect Federal laws, regulations, and OMB guidance. However, DOT’s guidance for tracking and reporting conference costs does not clearly define what constitutes a conference or conference-related activities, how to determine sponsorship, or how to ensure that event costs are accurately reported. As a result, DOT did not report all reportable conferences (i.e., those exceeding $20,000 sponsored by an agency) for the period we reviewed, and DOT’s total conference costs were understated. Further, when multiple Operating Administrations participate in the same conference, DOT does not compile Department-wide conference data and related costs, increasing the risk of violations of spending laws and regulations.

In addition, DOT has not established adequate procedures to ensure compliance with conference approval, spending, and reporting requirements. Operating Administrations did not comply with at least 1 of these requirements for 88 percent of the 60 conferences we sampled. Our sample also revealed questioned costs and funds that could have been put to better use. Finally, some Operating Administrations either have policies that do not align with DOT’s conference policy or do not follow their own policies. These weaknesses diminish the strength and authority of DOT’s internal controls for ensuring Operating Administrations comply with Federal laws, regulations, and OMB requirements. We made six recommendations to help DOT eliminate unnecessary spending on conferences and strengthen internal controls associated with conference reporting requirements. DOT concurred with our six recommendations and provided appropriate planned actions and completion dates. We consider all recommendations as resolved but open pending completion of the planned actions.


Closed on
No. 1 to OST
Revise Department-wide policies and procedures to clarify how to accurately identify and report conferences and conference-related activities and require Operating Administrations to review their policies and procedures and revise as needed to align with the Department. 
Closed on
No. 2 to OST
Develop and implement procedures for tracking, compiling, and maintaining conference costs data.
Closed on
No. 3 to OST
Require Operating Administrations to reconcile their conferences expenditures and publicly report actual conference costs incurred as required by OMB.
Closed on
No. 4 to OST
Revise the Department's travel reimbursement policy to clarify conference travel expenditures that can be claimed and enforce the revised policy to prevent double reimbursements, unentitled per diem reimbursements, and other overpayments.
Closed on $1,589
No. 5 to OST
Collect $1,589 of overpaid per diem reimbursements from conference travelers as identified in this report.
Closed on $856,009
No. 6 to OST
Develop and implement additional internal controls to help ensure Department-wide compliance with Federal laws, regulations, and OMB requirements on conference approval, reporting, and spending—including compliance with OMB Memorandum M-12-12, which prohibits incurring obligations prior to proper approval. Implementation of internal controls could have put $856,009 in funds to better use.