After the publication of this story, the Commerce Department released figures which showed spending on yearly conferences by NIST totaled just over $3.4 million over six years, much less than the $34 million originally cited by Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL). The cost of the last Orlando conference held by a unit within NIST was nearly $671,000.
A freshman Republican lawmaker in the Congress is asking a pair of U.S. House committees to investigate evidence turned over by a possible whistleblower who claims a unit of the National Institute of Standards and Technology spent $34 million over six years for conferences and meetings, including one multi-million dollar gathering a few months ago in Florida.
The Commerce Department sternly disputed the charges leveled by Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL), with one official saying an official rebuttal would be offered on Wednesday.
"We'll have a more complete response tomorrow," Commerce Department spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz said Tuesday night.
The dispute centers over documents provided to Rep. Adams by what she described as "credible whistleblowers," which led the GOP lawmaker to ask the House Oversight and House Science committees to pursue the matter - you can read one of her letters here.
"This is just unacceptable," Adams told me in an interview just off the House floor on Tuesday.
"We have government entities booking lavish conventions at the hard-working taxpayers expense," Adams added.
A document turned over by a whistleblower on travel and conference spending by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Adams passed on photos of the latest NIST/MEP gathering in Florida from May, showing attendees chowing down on crab legs and more - but officials at the Commerce Department said those items were not paid for with federal dollars.
"The reception shown in the photo posted with the article including the food, drinks, and the band were entirely paid for with private funds," said Horowitz, the Commerce Department spokeswoman.
Horowitz promised that the Commerce Department would more fully rebut the charges by Adams on Wednesday, but did not offer further specifics other than the issue of the food and drinks.
The Congresswoman's office had used those photos to label the NIST gathering as a "gross mismanagement of funds."
"At a time when our nation is saddled with nearly $16 trillion in debt and people are struggling to put food on the table, this gross mismanagement of taxpayer funds should be investigated," Adams said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
One other document provided to Rep. Adams shows what is purportedly a six year tally of conference spending by the MEP group, which totals out to over $34 million.
That included an average of $4.4 million for the annual conference, over $831,000 for the quarterly NIST/MEP meetings and over $753,000 for a regional meeting.
It was not immediately clear if the Commerce Department would challenge those figures as well.
If those numbers were found to be accurate, the costs would dwarf the spending by the General Services Administration on a 2010 conference in Las Vegas, a controversy that forced out a number of top officials, including the GSA chief, who resigned.
That GSA conference cost was over $800,000, which triggered bipartisan outrage in the Congress.