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Project on Government Oversight

Oak Ridge Managers Enjoy Luxuries at Taxpayers' Expense

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May 30, 2008

From POGO's blog:

Apparently Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) managers are accustomed to far more lavish conference settings than are consistent with federal and Department of Energy (DOE) guidelines. According to a report released by the DOE Inspector General, lab managers at ORNL provided themselves and fellow conference participants with elaborate and costly meals. Though the per diem meal rate for conference attendees in Boston was set at $61, conference managers instead allocated the per diem rate for each meal, in addition to $48.80 for morning and afternoon breaks.

And the fun did not seem to stop there. After all, what is a conference without alcohol? A DOE guideline specifically states that alcohol and entertainment are considered unallowable costs and cannot be paid for with registration fees, which are utilized to off-set allowable costs. Again, ORNL and its management contractor, UT-Battelle, ignored the rules. For the 2006 Linear Accelerator Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, UT-Batelle spent $27,225 on an afternoon social event at an area yacht club, $13,731 on alcohol and food, and $650 on cigars and wine. Doesn't sound very scientifically enlightening.

The Department has systems set up to protect against just this sort of mismanagement. Conference organizers are supposed to obtain pre-authorization for activities and expenses and to submit information to the Conference Management System (CMS) database. The IG report reveals, however, that ORNL managers frequently failed to seek authorization for conferences held between fiscal years 2005 and 2007, and often neglected to submit conference information to the CMS database. Thus, in-house oversight procedures were often ignored, allowing activity inconsistent with regulations to escape the attention of senior officials.

Hopefully, this situation will be cleared up soon, but not before ORNL has enjoyed a nice chunk of taxpayer dollars.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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