A second senior official at the Veterans Affairs Department is out because of the 2011 conference spending scandal, one that led the U.S. General Services Administration to consider changes in FY2013 per diems for federal employees and threatened to shake the meeting and events industry.
Alice Muellerweiss, the dean of VA’s Learning University, resigned Tuesday over her role in organizing two human resources training conferences in Orlando, Fla. The VA’s Inspector General found that although the conferences were held for legitimate purposes, agency leaders “failed to provide proper oversight in the planning and execution.” It found $762,000 in questionable spending out of about $6.1 million spent on the events.
John Sepulveda, the VA’s chief human capital officer, resigned Sept. 30, 2012, a day before the Inspector General released his report criticizing money spent on video production, F&B, promotional items, audiovisual services and awards given to employees who mismanaged the conferences.
Muellerweiss was criticized for her “lack of participation and apparent ignorance of what was taking place within her organization.”
Tonya Deanes, the deputy assistant secretary for Human Resources who worked with Sepulveda, accepted reassignment.
In the wake of the scandal, the GSA planned to change how it calculated per diems for government travel, in effect limiting where federal employees could meet, how often and where. Critics said the move would effectively price federal workers out of midrange markets, making them unable to find lodging where they needed to do business.
Protests from the Center for Association Leadership and the American Lodging & Hotel Association, among others, led the GSA to freeze per diem rates at the FY2012 level. This happened only after damage was done, however. More than 35 meetings and conferences — worth an estimated $1 million — were canceled, including the National Travel Forum for government travel planners and the 2012 GovEnergy Conference in St. Louis.