A federal labor agency spent tens of thousands of dollars in one year on bartending, college courses and other questionable expenses, according to information uncovered by InsideSources.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the main federal agency for resolving workplace disputes. The NLRB Inspector General found in an audit Sept. 27 that the agency spent $56,320 in questionable training and conference costs. The audit highlighted unapproved academic courses, bartending, food and other expenses as being suspect.

“The Office of Employee Development improperly approved training for employees taking college courses towards a degree,” the audit stated. “We also determined that four of the five conferences with break refreshments exceeded the Contracting Officer’s reasonableness guidelines for the expenditure of appropriated funds.”

The Inspector General noted the agency has been cooperative in fixing the issues highlighted in the audit. The audit looked specifically at all conferences and training sessions held between July 2014 and June 2015. Four conferences included award ceremonies that had food and bartending services.

“We are unaware of any authority that allows the NLRB to procure the services of a bartender,” the audit noted. “We find that the use of appropriated funds for the bartender and cashier expenses at the Office Managers, Field Managers, and ALJ conferences to be a waste and a questioned cost in the amount of $1,416.”

The Trial Training Conference did require the use of bartenders, unlike the other conferences. The bartending expenses, however, were not separated, making it impossible to determine how much the agency actually paid. The NLRB said employees at the conferences paid for their own drinks, but the audit found that to be misleading.

“While it is accurate to state that the individual alcoholic beverages were not procured by the Agency, the Agency did in fact use appropriated funds,” the audit stated. “The bartender and cashier expenses were the cost of delivering the beverage to the attendee. Paying the delivery expense is in fact part of the total expense of the item.”

The Inspector General also questioned the agency for funding academic courses for employees. The audit highlighted a program for support staff as the only approved academic degree program. The unapproved academic degree program benefited 14 employees at the agency at well over half the total questionable expenses.

“The National Labor Relations Board does not have an academic degree program,” the audit stated. “As a result, we found that the Office of Employee Development had $36,095.60 in questioned costs because the approvals of the college courses were not supported by proper documentation.”

The NLRB being cited for a questioned cost does not necessarily mean it has violated any laws or provisions. The Inspector General Act of 1978 defines a questioned cost as an alleged violation of a provision of a law, regulation, contract or other agreement governing the expenditure of funds.

“In addition to the questioned costs for the bartender and cashier at the ALJ awards ceremony, we find that the use of appropriated funds for the food was in violation of a regulation and is a questioned cost in the amount of $1,372.50,” the audit stated.

The NLRB pointed to a letter it submitted for the purposes of the audit when asked by InsideSources. The NLRB Administration Division letter highlighted how the agency has already begun putting in new guidelines and procedures to meet the audit recommendations.

It’s not uncommon or illegal for a federal agency to provide meals and drinks during conferences and training. To prevent abuse, however, agencies must follow regulations to ensure funds are being properly handled. The Inspector General audit found that those training and conference expenses might have violated some of those guidelines.

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