Department of Labor hit for ‘frivolous spending’

The House GOP’s top watchdog is demanding the Labor Department turn over records he expects will show a “pattern of frivolous spending” at the agency over the course of several years.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, cites more than half a million dollars in reported agency expenditures for informational elevator posters, tens of thousands spent on “public relations contests” and $100,000 to promote a book club.

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Issa chided the agency over alleged costs related to employee travel, resources dedicated to an internal publication and the hiring of the Washington Nationals mascot for an agency event.

“If this information is accurate, it raises serious questions about the lack of internal agency spending controls in a time of considerable budget constraints,” he said in a letter sent Monday to Labor Secretary Thomas PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE.

A Labor Department spokesperson pushed back on the accusations, calling agency officials "responsible stewards of public funds."

"And we inform the public of our important mission and engage and educate our employees in creative, effective and appropriate ways," the spokesperson said. "Our internal communications efforts make a difference in employee satisfaction, retention and most importantly, performance.  Better performance from our employees translates into better value for the public."

Issa, who has examined other agency spending under the Obama administration, began investigating the Labor Department after Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnFormer Sen. Tom Coburn dies at 72 Overnight Energy: Experts criticize changes to EPA lead, copper rule | House panel looks into plan to limit powers of EPA science advisers | Senate bill aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 Trump budget proposal funds financially struggling museum in Reagan's childhood home MORE (R-Okla.) called upon the agency’s inspector general to investigate allegations of excessive spending, contracting “irregularities” and misuse of agency resources.

In the months since, Issa’s committee has obtained some records that he says raise questions about spending at the department. Chief among the red flags, he says, are documents showing that the department has spent $2,637 a week since 2009 on posters for the 23 passenger elevators at Labor Department’s Washington headquarters.
 
That works out to more than $600,000, he said. Issa said the Labor Department has defended the posters as an effective method of communicating with workers.

Issa also questioned book club expenditures, $25,000 in entry fees for contests and subsequent travel costs to send winning employees to retrieve their awards – as well as the hiring of Screech the eagle, the Nationals mascot, at taxpayer expense.

“The public expects the federal government to exercise responsible stewardship of their taxpayer dollars,” Issa said. 

This story was updated at 2 p.m. with comment from a Labor Department spokesperson.