A bill intended to promote more transparency in government conference spending was pulled from a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing last week to allow for more debate.
The Senate’s latest attempt to pass a bill that would restrict government conference spending has been put on hold for at least another month.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was scheduled to consider substitute language for S. 1347, the Conference Accountability Act, at a hearing last week, but the bill was quietly removed from the agenda after Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) suggested that more debate and additional insight from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was needed before the bill went to a vote.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) sponsored the substitute language, which included more-stringent reporting requirements for federal employees that have attended meetings where the agency spent more than $50,000. It would have also prevented agencies from spending more than $500,000 on a single conference unless Congress approved a request made by the agency.
The most damaging provisions restricting conference attendance, which were included in Coburn’s original bill last year, were not written into the substitute language.
Earlier this year, the committee held a hearing to examine how much federal agencies were spending on conferences and travel after the Obama administration, through OMB, issued new guidance in May 2012. That guidance—most of which was included in the omnibus spending measure approved earlier this year—slashed agencies’ travel budgets to 70 percent of 2010 levels and imposed additional limitations and reporting requirements related to conferences.
At the January hearing, OMB Deputy Director Beth Cobert reported that agencies reduced travel costs by $3 billion in fiscal year 2013 compared to fiscal year 2010.
Committee chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) said at the hearing that agencies were continuing to look for ways to use technology to cut conference and travel costs. At the same time, he recognized the value of face-to-face meetings.
“While the administration has taken important steps to reduce conference spending, it is critical to recognize the important role that conferences play in the federal government,” he said. “Conferences enable the sharing of knowledge among large groups and bring together dispersed communities.”
For its part, ASAE said it intends to continue to follow committee work on S. 1347.
“ASAE has had good conversations with the cosponsors’ offices regarding the substitute amendment,” said Senior Vice President of Public Policy Jim Clarke, CAE. “We look forward to working with them in advance of a future markup to ensure that critical government attendance at outside meetings is not further restricted.”