House Passes DATA Act With Government Travel Restrictions
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act extends conference and travel spending restrictions that have been in place since last year, but it leaves out more draconian limits.
In a move that would codify restrictions on government travel expenditures that the Obama administration established last year, the House last week passed H.R. 2061, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013, in a 388-1 vote.
The DATA Act aims to increase transparency in how government agencies spend and receive funds, but it has drawn scrutiny from the travel and meetings industries for the restrictions it places on government employee travel and conference attendance.
The measure includes language from the GSA Act of 2013, which is largely duplicative of Office of Management and Budget guidelines put in place in May 2012 [PDF] to prevent unethical or excessive conference and travel spending. But the bill would extend the 30 percent reduction in government travel expenditures from 2016 to 2018. It does not include language from a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would restrict federal agencies from attending more than one conference each year for each outside group.
Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) highlighted the government travel restrictions already in place. “The administration itself, through the Office of Management and Budget, has also sought to curb these abuses by instituting new travel caps and new reporting requirements on all agency travel, and I applaud them for taking this seriously,” she said.
Johnson cautioned about “unintended consequences” of the travel restrictions in stifling innovation and stunting economic growth.
Meanwhile, the Global Business Travel Association warned that the bill could have an impact on the business travel industry.
“There is absolutely no doubt that lavish conferences, vague travel policies, and inappropriate travel expenses are a waste of our valuable tax dollars. However, H.R. 2061 goes about it the wrong way,” GBTA Executive Director Michael W. McCormick said in a statement. “Use of professional travel management principles can avoid the embarrassing, expensive, and indefensible costs and stories like GSA’s Las Vegas scandal. Congress should mandate that the federal government should uniformly follow everyday practices adopted at thousands of U.S. companies—optimizing the use of travel dollars by effectively implementing policies that drive appropriate traveler behavior.”