Issa subpoenas VA Secretary Shinseki over lavish conferences

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki on Tuesday for more information about two weeklong conferences that cost the agency $6.1 million.

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Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, first asked for the internal VA communications last August. The powerful lawmaker said on Tuesday he has not received the level of cooperation from Shinseki that he was promised.

“It is unacceptable that Veteran Affairs still has not cooperated with the committee’s requests nearly a year after they were originally sent,” said Issa in a statement.

“After the personal assurances I received from Secretary Shinseki and the accommodations made by congressional investigators, there can be no excuse for the continued delay. I am forced to use the compulsory process and am determined to find out just why and how taxpayer dollars were spent in such an indulgent and careless manner.”

Last October, the head of human resources for the VA resigned after a 142-page inspector general (IG) report found about $762,000 in “unauthorized, unnecessary, and/or wasteful expenses” during two conferences held in Orlando, Fla.

The conferences were held in 2011 for about 1,800 VA employees “to fulfill valid training needs,” according to the IG report.

But the VA’s top leadership “failed to provide proper oversight,” which allowed lower-level senior officials to spend $280,698 on an excessive contract with a Marriott hotel for audio-visual services, catering, food and drinks.

One of the most startling costs was the $49,516 spent to produce a parody video of the late-Gen. George S. Patton.

Shinseki appointed senior agency officials “to review evidence of wrongdoing and to recommend appropriate administrative action.”

Issa has been conducting his own investigation, claiming that phone calls and emails to the VA’s congressional and legislative affairs office “have rarely been returned or answered,” which spurred him to issue the subpoena on Tuesday.

The report also found that 11 VA officials who were in charge of managing the conference accepted improper gifts from contractors that were either already doing business with the VA or sought to do business with the department.

Also last year, Congress blasted the General Services Administration for holding a lavish $823,000 conference in Las Vegas in 2010.