Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I think we can all agree that federal agencies need to be wise and judicious in their use of travel funds, and that past abuses, while very much the exception, were a wake-up call for us to exercise stricter oversight of taxpayer dollars. The Administration itself, through the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, has also sought to curb these abuses by instituting new travel caps and new reporting requirements on all agency travel and I applaud them for taking this seriously.
On the face of it, OMB's directives seem reasonable to most of us, although there is room for debate even here. The scientific community, which includes tens of thousands of federal scientists at agencies such as the Department of Energy and NASA, depend on face-to-face interaction through conferences and workshops to foster innovation and launch new scientific directions. The community, therefore, is rightfully concerned about the unintended consequences of these restrictions stifling innovation and stunting economic growth by preventing federal scientists from participating fully in scientific exchanges with their fellow scientists and engineers from across the country and the world. So I hope OMB follows closely the impact of their own rules as they are implemented.
Today, however, I speak to the shockingly onerous requirements in H.R. 4631. While OMB's new directives have a $100,000 trigger for reporting on any given conference, in this bill, there is no trigger for the excessive laundry list of reporting requirements. And to be sure we understand each other, a conference is defined in this bill as ``a meeting, retreat, seminar, symposium, or event to which an employee travels 25 miles or more to attend, that is held for consultation, education, discussion, or training; and is not held entirely at a Government facility.'' Imagine, then, the very real and very common situation in which a USGS scientist in Reston travels by personal vehicle to a meeting about earthquakes with other agency and non-federal scientists at a non-governmental site such as the American Geophysical Union headquarters in DC.
That USGS scientist is entitled to reimbursement for fuel mileage for that trip. Are we really going to pay that scientist and other agency staff to do a complete cost-benefit analysis and meet all of the other reporting requirements in this bill over a $30 expense? It seems to me that the additional bureaucratic resources necessary to meet this requirement will require far more than a $30 reimbursement for gas.
Colleagues, I cannot imagine a more inefficient, bureaucratic, wasteful system than the one set up in this bill. If the goal is to make it so hard for any agency scientist to travel anywhere, anytime, for any purpose, then mission accomplished. But let us not underestimate the consequences this will have on the free and open exchange of scientific and technical knowledge and understanding between federal and non-federal scientists and for the innovation and economic benefits that follow. Nor let us underestimate the consequences this has for the ability of science agencies such as the National Science Foundation to conduct proper oversight of the several billion dollars in grants it awards to university scientists and engineers, because this bill also applies to program managers.
I urge my colleagues on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to address these concerns as the bill moves forward.