Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) joined efforts on a bill aiming to put an end to lavish spending on conferences for federal employees. The bill, H.R. 859, responds to testimony the pair heard in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee about excessive spending on conferences by the General Services Administration (GSA) and other federal agencies.
"At a time when families and taxpayers across America are tightening their belts, the government should be tightening its belt too," said Jordan. "One area we can definitely afford to cut back are the high-priced conferences that use taxpayer money to pay for such ridiculous events."
The pair said that testimony provided to their subcommittee on February 5th revealed that "big ticket" conferences and events, defined as those costing taxpayers more than $100,000 each, added up to more than $276 million in 2012. Their legislation sets new, tougher standards and would reduce an agency's overall budget if they fund a conference that cost more than $600 per day or $3,000 per trip.
"It's offensive that taxpayer funds would be used like a blank check by Agency heads and it's time to shut it down. We have an obligation to pinch pennies for the taxpayers of this country and there's no better place to start than on conference slush funds," said Speier.
GSA's now infamous conference at the M Resort in Las Vegas cost taxpayers $820,000. It included a mind reader, a clown, a $31,000 reception, and a $75,000 team-building exercise.
Other data provided to the Committee by various agencies and departments detailed more conferences that exceeded the cost threshold set by GSA.
The most frequent offenders include the Department of Defense (64 incidents), the Social Security Administration (22 incidents), the Department of Energy (21 incidents), USAID (21 incidents) and the Department of Agriculture (15 incidents). Other agencies with two or more incidents include the Department of Interior, Health & Human Services, Housing & Urban Development, Commerce, the EPA, the Department of Education, and the Small Business Administration.
The Taxpayers' Conference Overspending Protection Act would allow exemptions for foreign travel approved as mission-critical by agency officials and the Office of Management and Budget.