Employment: Archives 2014 & Earlier

Is it OK to Party on the Federal Dime?

Ho, ho, ho? Hell no.

That sums up the reaction that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) had when it found out that Education & Training Resources (ETR) had charged the National Office of Job Corps for a holiday party meant to reward employees at a job corps center, in Medina, N.Y.

In a recent audit, the OIG said it was “improper” for the ETR to have national foot the nearly $8,000 bill for the December 2008 party for staffers of the Iroquois Job Corps Center.

Among the charges:

* $5,877 for a banquet hall and food.

* $1,367 for party items and gift sets.

* $375 for a disc jockey.

* $338 for holiday envelopes, frames and personalized holders.

“Charging these items to Job Corps was unallowable because the party was a social activity and included specifically prohibited costs (banquet hall rental, meals, and entertainment),” the OIG wrote in the audit.

This is not the first time ETR has charged the feds for grooves, grub and holiday cheer.

Iroquois also improperly charged Job Corps for holiday parties in 2005 ($4,992) and 2006 ($4,458), the OIG alleges. The improper charges for the three years totaled $17,407.

The fact that Iroquois did not have a holiday party in 2007 shows why the holiday parties should have been allowable expenses, according to a letter to the OIG by Brian Fox, CEO of ETR.

The organization’s rationale is that the holiday parties weren’t just social functions or entertainment, but part of an incentive plan approved by the national office to reward employees when the center had a good performance year. Fox says 2007 wasn’t a good year, so there was no party.

Fox also took exception to the OIG and national office calling the 2008 holiday spread “excessive” in terms of its cost. He said the cost for each party ranged from $50 to $115 per employee, which he called “very reasonable.”

He the total amount for the three years “equates to approximately one-quarter of one percent of the center operating funds for the same period,” Fox wrote. “Staff of the Iroquois Job Corps Center earned the opportunity for this type of level of staff incentive.

“During the period since CY 2005, the Iroquois Center has improved from a historically underperforming center to a consistently ranked Top 25 performing center in the nation.”

Fox added that because the OIG is asking the National Office of Job Corps to clarify its policy regarding the inclusion of holiday parties in contractor incentive plans, the federal government should not try to recoup the costs now because the policy is unclear.

The national office plans to review how many of the costs from the holiday parties at Iroquois Job Corps Center over the years were improper.

The audit also turned up lack of monitoring and documentation regarding use of the center’s petty cash fund, failure to conduct regular monthly safety meetings, and a case where two students were listed as enrolled even though they never showed up at the center – a violation that may cost the center $5,193 in damages. ETR did not dispute those findings. It said the two students in question were “inadvertently” enrolled and that the center ultimately reconciled the books by not seeking cost reimbursement for them.



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