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Federal Eye
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 05/14/2012

Obama administration issues new travel and conference rules

In the wake of the General Services Administration (GSA) scandal over an excessive Las Vegas conference, the Obama administration has placed new restrictions on federal travel and meetings.

Eye Opener

In a Friday memo to government officials, Jeffrey D. Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said, “Each agency shall spend at least 30 percent less on travel expenses covered by this memorandum than in FY 2010.”

A blog post by Zients outlined new guidance for federal conferences. He said the new rules:

●“Require Deputy Secretaries to review any conference where the agency spending could exceed $100,000;

●“Prohibit agencies from spending over $500,000 on a conference unless the agency’s Secretary approves a waiver;

●“And require agencies to post publicly each January on the prior year’s conference spending, including descriptions of agency conferences that cost more than $100,000.”

The 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas cost $823,000. An inspector general report on that gathering led to the resignation of the agency’s administrator and the removal of other officials.

“This new guidance builds upon work already underway to scrutinize travel and conference budgets,” Zients said in the blog post. “ Last September, for instance, OMB directed agency leadership to conduct thorough reviews of their agency’s spending in travel and conference spending. As a result, Federal agencies have begun implementing plans to achieve nearly $1.2 billion in travel and conference savings. Already, DHS generated more than $13 million in travel cost avoidance; the State Department will hold the majority of their conferences in government facilities as opposed to renting hotels; and USDA has reduced travel spending by $47 million by reducing the number of conferences and increasing the use of video conference technology.”

The House and Senate approved separate pieces of legislation that generally would limit conference spending to $500,000.

In a statement, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he appreciates “the Administration’s quick action in issuing new guidelines to reduce travel costs and strengthen agency accountability for spending on conferences. Requiring agencies to post their conference spending online should be a major deterrent to the kind of reckless spending that occurred at GSA’s western regions conference. These guidelines are a serious effort to save and eliminate the abhorrent waste, abuse, and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars. ”

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federaldiary@washpost.com

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson. Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 05/14/2012

 
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