In the tight fiscal climate of the United States, there’s not a lot of spare cash in government departments. But that didn’t stop HR at one department racking up a $5m tab on throwing two lavish motivational conferences on the taxpayer’s dollar.
Expenditure by HR at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is now under investigation by the House Veterans Affairs Committee following wild spending on conferences in Orlando last year, held exclusively for HR department employees.
It has so far been submitted to the review panel that:
$84,000 was spent on branded promotional items, such as pens
$3,000 on two event photographers
And a whopping $52,000 to produce a video spoofing the film Patton that was shown at the conferences.
The video parody in question featured an actor satirising the opening scene from the 1970 film Patton, about US General George Patton who was known for his gruff leadership during WWII, and for making profanity-laced speeches to his troops.
In the 15-minute spoof, the fake general goes on about “mission imperatives” in the HR profession. He uses management-speak terms such as purpose, innovation and impact to pep-talk the audience of HR professionals. “Today you are embarking on a major campaign,” the actor says, standing in front of a giant American flag image as in the film. “I want you to remember that no unit ever accomplished its mission without a strong sense of purpose, a keen eye for innovation and a constant focus on the impact of their action. Those of you here today – HR professionals at VA – require those same qualities to accomplish your objectives,” he goes on.
Yet the spending-bender didn’t end with the opulent conferences. According to documents obtained by the investigation committee, this profligate spending may be the tip of the iceberg. Conference spending for 2011 may have topped $100m, despite $20m having been budgeted for such events.
The investigation comes as the department battles a backlog of veterans’ disability claims that have kept many veterans waiting a year or more to receive disability benefits from service-related illnesses and injuries.
A group of congressman have since petitioned the general secretary of the Veterans Affairs department to release an itemised breakdown of conference costs for 2009, 2010, and 2011, a description of what was budgeted for such events in 2012, and a budget estimate and breakdown of conferences planned for 2013.
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