Science, Technology Groups Ask Congress To Loosen Federal Travel Regulations

Looking to reverse the damage done by recent budget cuts, 63 science and technology associations have asked Congress to scale back federal travel restrictions viewed as an impediment to important industry work.

Leaders of several of the nation’s leading science and technology organizations want the Obama administration to lift travel restrictions for federal employees, and they’ve asked Congress for help.

These conferences foster and encourage collaborative processes that are vital to innovation in the scientific and engineering professions.

Concerned that the fiscal constraints imposed due to sequestration are keeping federal workers from engaging in the kinds of meaningful conversations needed to move the nation’s science and technology agenda forward, 63 science, technology, and engineering groups have petitioned House and Senate leaders to lift recent the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) travel restrictions that have blocked some agency employees from traveling to industry events.

The coalition, led by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), recently sent a letter to members of Congress [PDF] that says the travel restrictions keep influential government employees for taking part in “vital collaborative interactions” with scientific and technology leaders in “industry, academia, and government.”

Among the many activities the groups say government employees are missing out on are presentations of peer-reviewed research, face-to-face conversations with colleagues and peers, and the opportunity to look at old challenges in new and different ways.

“AIAA and its members, along with 62 other scientific and engineering organizations, have asked Congress to modify OMB rules that affect the ability of government employees to attend scientific and technical conferences,” AIAA Executive Director Sandy Magnus said in a statement. She added, “These conferences foster and encourage collaborative processes that are vital to innovation in the scientific and engineering professions.”

Specifically, the letter to Congress requests lawmakers’ support of open exchanges of information, “establishing legislative guidance that exempts federal employee travel to conferences, seminars, and meetings where attendance promotes agency interests as well as professional development and competency of government scientists, engineers, or other specialized experts.”

Research and development spending down. The request comes not long after the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) said sequestration would force the government to gut $9.3 billion in research and development funding for projects in 2013, including $6.4 billion from Department of Defense funding, $1.5 billion from the National Institutes of Health, and $749 million from NASA.

“Most agency budgets are going to be set back at least a few years,” Matthew Hourihan, director of the Research & Development Budget and Policy Program at AAAS, said in a statement reported by Associations Now in May. “Many of them are going to be set back a decade or more under sequestration.”

Science advocates aren’t the only ones seeking an exception. The Army has also asked for waivers to allow more uniformed personnel to travel to industry events  

To improve travel budgets and create efficiencies within the government, the OMB in May adopted a series of best practices developed in partnership with ASAE [PDF]. They include guidelines such as keeping hotel costs within government-established per diem rates. ASAE also recommends that federal agencies scale back unnecessary expenditures, such as social events, and seek discounts where available.

After meeting with ASAE, the OMB said it continues to support travel by government employees to industry events.

“It is critical for each agency to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in government operations,” the OMB said in a memo. “Given the unique travel and conference needs of each agency, there are circumstances in which physical collocation is necessary to complete the mission.”

“ASAE and its members worked with OMB to suggest guidelines that would be beneficial for government employees, so they could attend association meetings for business purposes, for training, and to discover the latest trends occurring in the private sector,” ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV wrote when the partnership was announced. “This is a great example of associations and government working together to develop guidelines, so both sectors can benefit from face-to-face meetings.”

Has your association noticed a decline in attendance at industry events as a result of sequestration or other federal cutbacks? Let us know in the comments.


(Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock)

Corey Murray

By Corey Murray

Corey Murray is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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