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After Mandated Cuts, Federal Travel Spending Plummets

A new report shows that among users of a federal government charge-card program designated for travel expenses, travel and conference spending has plummeted by 17 percent in the 2013 fiscal year through July. Across-the-board cuts are being credited.

It’s not a completely surprising result considering the mandated cuts, but it’s one worth noting nonetheless.

According to one tracking mechanism, statistics from the General Services Administration’s SmartPay credit-card program, federal spending on travel expenses declined by 17 percent in the 2013 fiscal year through July, compared to fiscal 2012. While there’s no complete record of across-the-board travel spending, the SmartPay program used by 2.5 million card holders in the federal government is a strong indicator of trends.

Some highlights from a recent report by FederalTimes:

The deepest cuts: Departments that had the deepest cuts were those that have the largest travel needs, including the Department of Defense, which trimmed nearly $1 billion from its $4.5 billion total in fiscal 2012; the Agriculture Department, which is on track to come in $90 million below its fiscal 2010 total for 2013; and the Transportation Department, which saw its travel spending drop 18 percent, from $139 million to $113 million, from July 2012 to July 2013. GSA has a much smaller budget, but its cut was the deepest in percentage terms—it had a 62 percent decline, from $8 million in July of fiscal 2012 to $3 million so far this fiscal year.

“Aggressive steps”: Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Ari Isaacman Astles, speaking to Federal Times, noted that travel spending overall had declined by $2 billion and that agencies have followed strict controls implemented by the Obama administration to make the cuts. “Each agency needs to focus any conference and travel spending on mission-critical activities and to ensure any related spending best serves the American people and is an effective and efficient use of federal funds,” she told the news outlet.

An impact beyond conferences: As The New York Times noted in a story earlier this month, cuts to travel spending have hurt scientific research sharing, maintaining equipment, emergency training, and other activities central to government employees’ work. In many cases, these activities occurred at conferences, but with the cuts, many federal employees have had to rely on other means to share information, including videoconferencing and online education. While the conference industry itself has suffered—in one case, a Seismological Society of America conference was nearly canceled when dozens of U.S. Geological Survey employees couldn’t attend—many say that larger federal goals have suffered as well.

A potential solution? GSA, which has created a committee to look for ideas on how to solve the travel-spending issue, recently asked vendors to provide information on data-based solutions that could help the agency better understand how travel dollars are spent across the government. While it has an in-house solution called GSA Travel MIS, the agency admits that the “the government travel data environment remains highly fragmented.” As FCW reports, replies are due to the agency by September 16.

Whatever solutions are found regarding travel spending could have an impact beyond the government agencies. A recent study by the U.S. Travel Association concluded that an increase in travel spending would have ripple effects throughout the U.S. economy.

(iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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