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Investigators say VA events wasted $762,000

WASHINGTON – Federal investigators estimated Monday that the Department of Veterans Affairs wastefully spent about $762,000 at two employee conferences last year in Orlando, Fla., and that senior leadership failed to provide proper oversight.

The inspector general for the VA said 11 of the department’s employees also accepted improper gifts from contractors seeking to do business with the government.

The VA responded by saying that it agreed that “the actions cited in the report represent serious lapses in oversight, judgment, and stewardship.” It also noted that the department had accepted the resignation, effective Sunday, of Assistant Secretary John Sepulveda, the official who oversaw human resources at the department.

Members of Congress from both parties voiced outrage.

In all, the two VA conferences cost about $6.1 million and were held to fulfill valid training needs for nearly 1,800 employees. But some expenses were deemed unnecessary and wasteful, including nearly $100,000 for unnecessary promotional items, nearly $50,000 for the production of a video featuring a parody of Gen. George S. Patton, and nearly $150,000 in contractor travel picked up by the department.

“The blatant waste of taxpayer dollars and government employees improperly accepting gifts cannot, and will not, be tolerated,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.