Congressional monitoring of federal spending on conferences and travel continued February 27, with lawmakers at a House hearing checking up on agency efforts to cut costs.
A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee held a hearing February 27 to determine if new policies in place since last year have curbed government spending on travel and conferences.
Office of Management and Budget Controller Daniel Werfel testified that the new travel policies for federal agencies, implemented last year after goverment conference spending drew congressional scrutiny, are delivering results. Travel spending dropped by $2 billion from 2010 to 2012, Werfel said, and agencies have adopted more cost-effective practices when planning their own conferences, including using government-owned meeting space whenever possible.
Conference spending has been under the microscope since a report surfaced last spring about excessive spending on a 2010 General Services Administration (GSA) employee training conference in Las Vegas. The GSA scandal drew the ire of budget hawks in Congress and led lawmakers to consider severe restrictions on government employees’ travel to face-to-face conferences.
While no bill restricting travel cleared Congress last year, the Obama administration has put in place a series of new policies and procedures for travel and conferences that applies to all federal agencies. An OMB memo directed agencies to reduce travel spending in FY 2013 by at least 30 percent from FY 2010 spending levels and to maintain those reduced spending levels through FY 2016. The OMB memo also required agencies to institute tighter internal controls over conference-planning decisions and publicly report their annual spending on conferences in excess of $100,000.
Testifying at the hearing, Werfel said the administration wants to prevent wasteful or unnecessary spending without restricting government travel entirely. “As we continue to build on the progress made to date in reducing travel and conference costs, we are also aware of the important role travel and conferences can play in carrying out an agency’s mission,” he said.
That point was reiterated by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist who testified about the importance of scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other agencies being able to travel to conferences to share ideas and learn from peers at other institutions and laboratories.
“As we work to ensure oversight on travel expenditures, we should also work to preserve the many benefits of appropriate travel, which can promote collaboration and innovation,” Holt said.
ASAE submitted testimony for the record reaffirming the value of federal employees participating in association meetings and conferences.