Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unnecessarily spent nearly $300,000 worth of sponsorships and business meals at the Mortgage Bankers Association's annual convention, according to the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The report released Thursday examined expenditures and attendance of employees at the MBA's 2011 annual conference held in Chicago in October. Nearly half of the $607,501 spent, the inspector general's office said, "was of questionable value."

"There is no indication that any business conducted by the enterprises with their clientele at the convention could not have been conducted as well without this largesse," the report said.

The inspector general's findings follow two directives issued in December and January by FHFA head Edward DeMarco, restricting certain expenses and saying the agency would take a more active role in the process. The directives have not been made public.

Expenses at Fannie and Freddie are a popular target, including congressional moves to reduce executive compensation. The New York Times criticized spending at the MBA conference in Chicago shortly after it ended.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who sent a letter to DeMarco expressing concern over the conference spending, said Thursday that the government-sponsored enterprises continue operate with a "business as usual" mentality.

"Many expenses … show Americans' tax dollars are still being wasted," Neugebauer said in an emailed statement. "These enterprises must be subject to intense congressional oversight to ensure that sure waste does not occur while in conservatorship."

Fannie and Freddie registered 90 people for that conference, the inspector general said, but another 84 traveled without signing up "to conduct business meetings with industry executives." The FHFA sent seven employees.

That changed significantly for the MBA servicing conference held in February. The two GSEs registered just seven people to go to Orlando, Fla., according to an online list of attendees.

DeMarco said in a directive that business goals should dictate which employees go to industry events. Those travel expenses should also be pre-approved, he said.

The FHFA inspector general's office said it recommends Fannie and Freddie review its "travel and entertainment policies" to comply with DeMarco's directives.

"The acting director's new directive and guidance, if effectively enforced, will provide a solid basis for controlling future business and travel expenses," the inspector general's report said.

The GSEs also spent a total of $140,000 on event sponsorship, which DeMarco said must be approved by the FHFA in the future. Employees also spent $140,415 on business meals and hosted dinners, the latter DeMarco said should "generally be stopped," according to the inspector general's report.

The wife of Fannie CEO Michael Williams cohosted one dinner, with her travel expenses paid for by the GSE. Fannie and Freddie policy at the time allowed for a spouse's travel costs to be expensed for business reasons, which is unauthorized under comparable federal regulations.

In response, the FHFA said it agrees with recommendations the report makes, and said the GSEs are implementing policy and process changes.

(Click to read the full report.)

ascoggin@housingwire.com

@AScoggin