The Social Security Administration billed taxpayers $32 million for work conferences, according to a new audit.
The inspector general for the agency reported that just over 300 conferences cost taxpayers roughly $100,000 each in travel, meals, and lodging expenses during a three-year period.
The audit found that the agency mostly complied with federal reporting requirements to disclose conferences that cost $20,000 or more. The inspector general did find two instances where those conferences were not reported, because initial cost estimates fell below the $20,000 threshold.
In all, the inspector general identified 317 conferences that were held between fiscal years 2013 and 2016.
"The costs of these conferences totaled approximately $31.9 million," the inspector general said.
Each conference cost an average of $100,630.
Since 2013, Congress has required government agencies to notify inspector generals of conferences costing more than $20,000 within 15 days. In 2012 the General Services Administration was exposed for billing taxpayers over $800,000 for a lavish conference in Las Vegas that included clowns, mind readers, and hot tub parties.
"SSA generally complied with Federal conference reporting requirements," the inspector general said. "However, in FY 2016, SSA did not notify OIG of two conferences with expenditures in excess of $20,000 within 15 days of the conference dates as required."
The majority of the SSA's conferences that cost over $100,000 in 2016 were for training for administrative law judges and other training.
"On average, in [fiscal years] 2013 through 2016, SSA spent $742 per attendee on conferences," the inspector general said.
Government conferences covered the cost of transportation, lodging, meals, and incidentals. The SSA also paid for guest speakers, totaling $2.4 million over a four-year period.
"Conferences with guest speaker expenses ranged from $2,500 to about $255,000," the inspector general said.