The bill contains new substitute language limiting the dollar amount agencies can spend on a single conference as well as reporting requirements for federal employees attending agency meetings. But the measure leaves out the most restrictive provisions from a similar bill last year.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee passed a substitute to the Conference Accountability Act last week.
The substitute language, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), included more stringent reporting requirements for federal employees who have attended meetings for which an agency spent more than $50,000. The legislation also prevents agencies from spending more than $500,000 on a single conference unless the leadership of the agency submits a request to Congress.
The new language did not contain some of the most restrictive provisions regarding conference attendance included in Coburn’s original bill last year. Immediate action on the current bill by the full Senate is not considered likely.
Quoting an Office of Management and Budget letter, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said federal conference spending decreased by more than 50 percent after OMB put new rules in place in 2012. Federal government spending in 2012 was $305 million for 900 conferences, compared with $120 million for 400 conferences last year.
The wave of government conference scandals that led to the 2012 OMB rules also put a dent in federal travel spending. Last month, Federal Times reported travel spending by agencies has dropped 27 percent since fiscal year 2010. The decline is expected to hit the 30 percent mark required by the OMB order by the end of this fiscal year.
At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing earlier this year, committee chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) said 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,” Carper said. “Conferences enable the sharing of knowledge among large groups and bring together dispersed communities.”