Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Fla., accused a federal agency in the Commerce Department of spending up to $5 million on an annual conference near Disney World, but government officials countered that they spent $670,000 on the most recent event.
“The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has held a conference 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,” Gail Porter, a spokeswoman for the NIST-MEP, told The Washington Examiner. “No federal funds were spent on catering, entertainment, or alcohol. Any reception and entertainment costs associated with this conference were paid for entirely by private sector resources.”
Adams, in calling for an investigation into the NIST MEP conferences, recalled the recent General Services Administration scandal, which say government officials spending approximately $800,000 on a lavish conference in Las Vegas. “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.
According to figures provided by the NIST MEP, the agency spent $670,845 on its May 2012 conference, and about $3.9 million on all the conferences since 2006, combined.
Adams rejected the NIST MEP figures as a “semantics game” from the Commerce Department. “NIST knows that direct costs paid by their agency are not the only ones associated with this conference,” she said in a statement. “They are fully aware that MEP centers are under contractual obligation to attend these conferences, and that the funds used by each center to attend come directly from the federal government’s investment in MEP. Whether the true cost is $5 million or $1 million, it is a gross mismanagement of taxpayer funds, and the discrepancy in the dollar amount the department released and the documents I have is reason enough for Congress to forge ahead with an investigation.”
Porter denied that the MEP centers are “contractually required” to attend. “That is not correct at all,” she told The Washington Examiner. “They are not contractually or in any way required to come to the conference. They come to the conference because it has many useful workshops and substantive training sessions that they benefit from.”
She also said that “the MEP regional centers have multiple sources of input beyond just MEP — they are not fully funded by NIST MEP at all.”