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Audit (A-03-13-03003)

HHS Agencies Did Not Accurately Report Some Conference Costs for Fiscal Year 2012

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Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies did not accurately report on the Department's Web site conference costs for the four conferences covered by our audit. For these four conferences, HHS agencies reported total conference costs of $15.8 million, of which we reviewed $15.4 million. For the costs reviewed, we determined that the reportable costs for these conferences were $16.8 million, a net underreported difference of $1.4 million.

HHS agencies reported inaccurate conference costs because they did not have an effective process in place to capture and separately identify all conference costs during our audit period and the Department relied on the HHS agencies to report costs for conferences planned or held during the fiscal year. In addition, before June 2012, there was no requirement for HHS agencies to report and for the Department to publicly post conference costs. HHS agencies had completed the planning for all four conferences, and three of the conferences had taken place, before the requirement was issued. Because the reporting requirements were so new, some agency officials said that they were uncertain about the costs that should be reported. Also, HHS agencies had awarded some contracts to fund one or more conferences each year of the contract that did not separately identify the funding for each conference. In addition, some contracts included funding for nonconference services.

Although most of the costs that the HHS agencies incurred for the four conferences we audited were allowable, some were not. Specifically, HHS agencies reported $32,000 of unallowable costs for meals and other unallowable costs and may have reported unallowable contract costs.

We recommended that the Department (1) provide additional guidance to its agencies on awarding contracts, grants, and cosponsorship agreements that appropriately identify the costs paid by the Government for each conference; (2) direct HHS agencies to provide greater oversight to ensure that they report more accurate estimated conference costs; and (3) direct HHS agencies to provide greater oversight to ensure that officials who approve travel do not authorize unallowable costs for meals that are provided as part of the conference. The Department concurred with our first and third recommendations and described corrective actions it had taken or planned to take to address them. The Department did not concur with our second recommendation.

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