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Posted at 03:57 PM ET, 04/24/2012

Senate begins debate on Postal Service; approves plan capping agency spending


The GSA spending scandal has prompted several legislative proposals. (Mandel Ngan - AFP/Getty Images)

The Senate unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to cap spending by federal agencies on conferences and meetings, a proposal in direct response to the spending scandal unfolding at the General Services Administration.

The plan, introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), was approved by voice vote as an amendment to a broad bipartisan bill to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service. A final vote on the postal bill is now expected to occur on Wednesday.

The House is also expected to approve plans capping agency spending on Wednesday, but as part of a different measure that establishes new government-wide spending standards.

The Coburn plan requires agencies to justify the cost and locations of any off-site meetings and to provide quarterly reports detailing the number of federal employees and other guests invited to the conference. It also caps agency spending on a single conference at $500,000 unless the agency is a primary sponsor.

Agencies would have to post quarterly conference spending reports on its Web site, including an explanation of how the meetings helped advance the agency’s mission; the total cost of attendance and other costs; the primary sponsors of the conference; its location and why the site was chosen; the number of people invited and their job titles; who paid for people to attend; and all meeting minutes, presentations and recordings.

Outside companies, nonprofits and other foundations would be permitted to provide financial support for agency conferences, but agencies would have to certify that there is no direct conflict of interest in receiving such funding.

Finally, no more than 50 employees from any agency would be permitted to travel to an international conference, according to Coburn’s proposal.

The Coburn plan will not become law until it is agreed to by the House and Senate within the same piece of legislation.

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By  |  03:57 PM ET, 04/24/2012

 
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