Senate Bill Adds New Twist to Limits on Conference Spending

A new measure introduced last week has a one-conference-per-group provision that could severely limit agencies' interactions with organizations in related industries.

The latest legislative move to rein in federal spending on government-sponsored conferences and limit government employee attendance at outside meetings came last week from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).

Time and time again, taxpayers are frustrated by extravagant and expensive conferences that are exposed after conferences take place.

While some of the provisions of the new bill, introduced July 24, mirror existing rules for federal agencies put in place by the administration last year, one appears problematic for associations that typically have government attendees at their conferences. That provision “only allows agencies to expend funds on one conference each year for each outside group,” according to a statement from Coburn’s office. Presumably, that would mean government researchers at the National Institutes of Health, for example, could attend only one meeting of the American Medical Association per year.

The bill’s cosponsors include Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Jeffrey Chiesa (R-NJ), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and John McCain (R-AZ). Coburn cited the now infamous General Services Administration training conference held in Las Vegas in 2010 and recent reports of excessive conference spending by the Internal Revenue Service as reasons for the bill.

“Time and time again, taxpayers are frustrated by extravagant and expensive conferences that are exposed after conferences take place,” Coburn said. “This bill will help prevent such egregious spending from happening in the first place while forcing agencies to disclose how much they have spent on conferences.”

Other provisions in the bill would:

  • prohibit agencies from sending more than 50 employees to any conference occurring outside the U.S.
  • require agencies to post conference expenses online, including information about the sponsors of outside conferences and justification for how the meeting relates to the agency mission
  • prohibit agencies from spending more than $500,000 on any single conference
  • prohibit agencies from spending more than 80 percent of their total conference expenditure in 2010 for the next four years
  • require the Office of Management and Budget to establish guidelines for what expenses constitute travel expenses for conferences
  • prevent agencies from establishing policies that discourage selecting a resort or vacation destination for a conference location.

Coburn has introduced similar bills in the past, including an amendment attached to the FY13 continuing resolution last spring that would have restricted agencies from sending more than 25 employees to any meeting or conference in the U.S. That amendment was dropped from the spending bill before it passed the Senate.


Chris Vest, CAE

By Chris Vest, CAE

Chris Vest, CAE is vice president, corporate communications and public relations at ASAE. MORE

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