Backers defend cost, saying it's training, not frivolity.
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army in 2010 spent $10.7 million on a Washington conference, about 13 times the amount paid in the same year by the General Services Administration for an event near Las Vegas that's been criticized by Congress.
The Army spent $10.6 million on the conference last year, too, part of $37.7 million paid by taxpayers in the past four years for 9,805 service members and civilians to participate in the annual gathering, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Army plans to cut costs to $1.3 million for 400 attendees at this year's conference, Oct. 22-24. That figure is still more than the $823,000 the GSA spent on the Las Vegas event that led to congressional investigations into spending on such things as a clown and mind reader, resignations of top officials and a cutback on government conferences.
Comparing the two events is misleading because the three-day Army conference in the nation's capital is an educational forum on topics such as cyber warfare for military members, civilians, lawmakers and journalists and not an occasion for feting employees, said Michael Brady, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.
"A comparison to GSA or even VA would not only be inaccurate, but unfair," Brady said in an interview, referring to conference spending scandals at the General Services Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. "They got in trouble for spa treatments and iPods. That just doesn't happen here."
The White House's Office of Management and Budget prohibited conference expenses of more than $500,000 in a May memo, a month after the inspector general released the GSA conference report.
The Army said it was seeking a waiver from the OMB's spending cap to participate in the conference, according to a July 23 memo signed by Lt. Gen. William Troy.
The Army historically accounts for as much as a quarter of the conference's attendance. The event is billed as "one of the largest land warfare expositions and professional development forums in the world," with about 35,000 attendees and 600 industry and military exhibits, according to the organization's website.
The service's July memo didn't specify how many troops would attend. The FOIA response shows it plans to spend $1.3 million for 400 people to attend this year, down from $10.6 million for 2,576 attendees last year.
"While this reduction will unquestionably affect the Army, ... technology-based platforms first used at last year's meeting will enable the Army to provide opportunities for participation in many forums at a substantially reduced cost," the response said.