Senate Votes to Limit Lavish Spending on Government Conferences

Press Release

By:  Thomas Coburn
Date: April 24, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) released the following statement today after the Senate agreed to Coburn amendment 2060 by a voice vote. This amendment provides a first step in comprehensive conference spending and transparency reform by scaling back overall spending on government-sponsored conferences, establishing attendance limitations to protect from excessive and unnecessary travel, capping the amount that can be spent on a single conference at $500,000, and requiring all conference expenses to be published online.

"Congress has finally said "the party's over' when it comes to conference spending. We have seen scandal after scandal because Congress has failed to do oversight. The purpose of oversight is to prevent scandals, not respond to scandals. Still, I'm pleased my colleagues took this common sense step to limit conference spending and require greater transparency and accountability. I'm hopeful some version of this amendment will be accepted in the House of Representatives on this bill or another bill in the near future," Dr. Coburn said.

Additionally, the Senate approved Coburn amendment 2058 by voice vote, amending the Service Standard requirement to encourage the co-location of Post Offices in business. Unfortunately, the Senate rejected Coburn amendment 2061, to require retirement-eligible USPS employees to retire in a vote of 33-65.

The Coburn conference amendment could save at least $65 million every year. It establishes a basic set of requirements for conference spending, including the following:

* Reduces the amount an agency can spend on conferences to 80 percent of the amount spent in 2010.

* Caps amount that can be spent on a single conference at $500,000 (unless the agency is the primary sponsor).

* Allows non-federal foundations and sources to provide financial support for a conference, but requires a listing of such sponsors and a certification that there is no conflict of interest resulting from support received from each.

* Prohibits sponsoring more than one conference per year per organization.

* Limits to 50 the number of employees from a single agency traveling to an international conference.

The amendment also requires a quarterly summary posted on the agency's website of each conference supported or attended by an agency in the preceding 3 months, including:

* An explanation how the conference advanced the mission of the agency;

* Total cost of attendance and support for the conference;

* Primary sponsor of the conference;

* Location of the conference;

* A justification of the location including cost efficiency of the location;

* The dates; and

* The number and a listing by title of agency and non-federal employees whose attendance at the conference was paid for by the agency.