Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Fla., announced a whistle blower report that an obscure agency in the Commerce Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a conference near Disney World.
"According to the information I have received, the NIST MEP most recently spent anywhere between three and five million dollars on an annual conference at a resort near Walt Disney World in Florida," Adams wrote in a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Fla., in which she requested a hearing into the matter.
Adams compared the NIST MEP conference to the recent discovery that the General Services Administration spent over $800,000 on a Las Vegas conference. "On the heels of discovering the General Services Administration’s misuse of taxpayer funds, Congress has a duty to provide oversight and hold these government agencies accountable," she said in a statement. "I encourage the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to hold a joint hearing to look into the NIST’s potential abuses immediately."
UPDATE: Gail Porter, Director of Public Affairs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, responded with the following statement:
The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has held its Innovation Event in Orlando, Florida, at the Orlando World Center Marriot annually since 2006 in order to provide workshops and training for employees of the 400 non-profit MEP affiliated centers across the country, as well as education and networking for manufacturers and industry experts. The event helps smaller manufacturers compete in the global market to create American jobs.
This was not an event for federal workers. About 90 percent of the attendees were from private sector organizations. NIST/MEP federal employees who attended were there to help staff the 75 different substantive workshops, panel discussions, and expert talks at the event, including sessions to match smaller manufacturers with specific new business opportunities.
No federal funds were spent on catering, entertainment, or alcohol. Any reception and entertainment costs associated with this conference were paid for entirely by funds from private sector sponsors.
Keeping costs down is always a priority for such events. The venue was chosen because of the affordability of airfare and accommodations.
The total amount of MEP federal funds spent for its May 2012 Manufacturing Innovation Event was $670,845. The MEP federal funds for the conference covered such expenses as travel, event programming, hotel conference rooms, and event infrastructure.