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Hearing of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service, and the Census - Reducing Government Travel Costs

Hearing

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Representative Blake Farenthold, Chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service, and the Census, held a hearing today aimed at lowering the cost of federal government travel, saving taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

"This is not an indictment of conferences or travel. The district I represent, which includes my hometown of Corpus Christi, is a tourist destination home to many conferences. What we're trying to address here is how the public money is spent. What we've got to keep in mind is those traveling on the taxpayer dollar need to be frugal."

Farenthold continued, "One of the important things that I think will come out of this hearing and of the new travel regulations is the culture of federal employees to adopt the mindset that this is the taxpayers hard earned money you're spending and you need to spend it more carefully than you would spend your own money."

The committee heard testimony from Representative Rush Holt from New Jersey, Mr. Danny Werfel, Controller, U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and Ms. Cynthia Metzler, Chief Administrative Services Officer at the General Services Administration.

The full text of Congressman Farenthold's opening statement is below:

Nine months ago, this Committee held a hearing on a now-infamous GSA Las Vegas conference that cost the taxpayers more than $820,000, that's more than ¾ a million, spent by the agency that's charged with keeping federal costs low.

Shortly following that boondoggle and justifiable public outcry, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo in May 2012 outlining new policies and procedures for federal travel and conferences.

The OMB guidance instructs the heads of federal departments and agencies for fiscal year 2013 to spend at least 30 percent less on travel expenses than they did in fiscal year 2010. This is similar to a recommendation made by the Simpson-Bowles Commission.

If that goal is met, the federal government will still have spent around $4.6 billion in non-military federal employee travel this year.

In addition, the OMB memo offers new rules for conferences, such as requiring senior level review for all planned events, senior level approval and public reporting for those in excess of $100,000, and a general prohibition on those costing more than $500,000 unless the head of the agency provides a waiver.

For fiscal year 2012 alone, there were over 750 conferences that cost in excess of $100,000. The total cost to the taxpayers for these events was more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

With the looming $85 billion across-the-board sequester spending cuts, and the administration's unwillingness to offer specific cost-saving measures, today's hearing offers us an opportunity to hear how OMB's directive -- if fully and responsibly implemented -- can potentially help save the taxpayer's billions of dollars by reducing travel and conference costs that may not be necessary for a federal employee to discharge the duties of their office.

We are hoping to determine today if these new policies have curbed wasteful expenditures, and what new statutory changes may be required to reduce travel spending appropriately and to shed greater transparency upon travel and conference spending.

We want to ensure a GSA Las Vegas-type conference never happens again.

Last Congress, this Committee approved legislation eventually passed unanimously by the full House of Representatives that would largely implement the guidelines of the OMB memo -- and create greater transparency of travel and conference spending.

Our former colleague Jo Ann Emerson reintroduced this legislation -- H.R. 313, the Government Spending Accountability Act -- earlier this year.

I'd like to thank the witnesses for their time and testimony.


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