Ethics office cracks down on lavish agency junkets

The memorandum from OGE director Walter M. Shaub Jr. details new rules adopted in March. It follows a series of high-profile scandals involving costly conferences, including the now-infamous 2010 General Services Administration (GSA) junket in Las Vegas, which cost taxpayers $820,000.

The GSA expenses, exposed last year, included the hiring of a clown and mind reader, a $75,000 “team building” exercise and several pre-conference “scouting trips” that cost more $136,000.

Under the new rules, agency heads must notify the inspector general that oversees their department about the date, location and number of employees attending any conference that costs more than $20,000. At agencies without an Inspector General’s Office, the information would go to the senior ethics official within 15 days of the event. 

Conferences costing more than $100,000 would trigger requirements that agencies file annual reports explaining the expenses and contracting procedures used. The reports would detail expenditures on food, beverages, travel expenditures and other costs.

The OGE memo also includes new guidance requiring that officers and workers earning $119,553.60 or more must file financial disclosure reports. Those employees are also subject to post-employment conflict of interest restrictions.

The rules were enacted March 26 as part of the fiscal 2013 spending legislation.