U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today helped introduce legislation aimed at reducing excessive spending by federal agencies on conferences. The bill would reduce travel expenses by scaling back overall spending on government-sponsored conferences, establish attendance limitations to protect against excessive and unnecessary travel, cap the amount that can be spent on a single conference at $500,000, and require all conference expenses to be published online. The legislation was introduced by Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) and is also being cosponsored by Senators Jeffrey Chiesa (R-NJ), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and John McCain (R-AZ).
"With $17 trillion in debt, it's unacceptable that federal agencies continue to waste taxpayer dollars on excessive conference expenses," said Senator Ayotte. "Americans deserve to know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and efficiently, and this legislation will set strict limits on conference spending, and boost accountability and transparency."
Specifically, the bill:
* Prohibits agencies from paying for travel expenses for more than 50 employees for any conference occurring outside of the United States, unless the Secretary of State certifies it is in the national interest.
* Requires agencies to post reports on their website that include each conference, including itemized expenses such as travel costs, lodging, food, costs for scouting and selecting the location, and any other cost. Also requires detailed information about the sponsors, location, a justification of how it relates to the agency mission, cost-benefit analysis, job titles of attendees, and other information.
* Prohibits agencies from spending more than 80% of their total conference expenditure of 2010 for the next 4 years. 2010 was the pinnacle of excessive conference spending.
* Requires OMB to establish guidelines for what expenses constitute travel expenses for conferences.
* Requires agencies to publish on their website the minutes, speeches, exhibits, videos, and sponsors of conferences.
* Prohibits an agency from spending more than $500,000 on any single conference.
* Only allows agencies to expend funds on one conference each year for each outside group.
* Prevents an agency from establishing or implementing a policy that discourages or prevents selecting a conference location that is perceived to be a resort or vacation destination.
Recent reports of outlandish conference spending include:
* With a history of excessive conference spending, the Department of Education is planning another Las Vegas conference for December 2013 which has been estimated to cost $970,000.
* $50 million spent by the IRS between 2010 and 2012 on 220 conferences.
* Over $800,000 spent by the GSA in 2012 on a single conference in Las Vegas.
* $58 million spent by the DOJ in 2012 for conferences in Indonesia, Senegal, and Northern Mariana Islands among others.