Already on the defensive over past conference spending, officials at the General Services Administration pushed back against suggestions that a conference now going on in Nashville, Tennessee was just another in a line of wasteful government expenditures.
"Why is there a conference going on today in Nashville?" asked Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) during a Wednesday hearing on GSA spending.
What's happening in Nashville is the "SmartPay" conference, an effort by the GSA "to improve the management of government charge card programs" according to a statement released by the agency on Wednesday afternoon.
"The conference holds more than 200 training sessions to educate agency charge card managers from across the government in issues such as: reconciliation and payment systems, detecting questionable transactions, best practices, etc.," said the statement.
While the GSA statement indicated the SmartPay conference was "required," the agency did not immediately offer any figures on how much the conference would cost.
A GSA spokeswoman says 48 employees from the GSA were at this conference in Nashville. She said the GSA did not hold any type of official event on a steamboat, as Rep. Denham had charged during a Wednesday hearing.
Here is the full statement issued by the GSA press office:
GSA has cancelled 37 conferences and has reviewed every conference to ensure that the conferences that move forward, like Expo and FedFleet, and now SmartPay conference, are justified. These conferences are critical for training and for businesses to understand how to work with government. These have been attended by thousands of federal, state and local employees, as well as thousands of small and large businesses.
The SmartPay conference is required and is held to improve the management of government charge cards program. These jobs require continuous education for the managers of these cards. The conference holds more than 200 training sessions to educate agency charge card managers from across the government in issues such as: reconciliation and payment systems, detecting questionable transactions, best practices, etc.
GSA SmartPay contractor banks are required to provide annual training at the conference at no additional cost to the government.
Bonuses and Awards
The new head of GSA Dan Tangherlini is reviewing the entire performance award system as part of his rigorous top to bottom review of all agency operations. This review has already uncovered clear needs for reform. Just recently, Tangherlini cut executive bonuses and instituted a hiring freeze across the agency.
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