The Road Less Traveled: Reducing Federal Travel & Conference Spending

Hearing Date: February 27, 2013 12:30 pm 2247 Rayburn House Office Build

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.  I now recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Lynch from Massachusetts for his opening statement.

Witnesses and testimonies

Name Title Organization Panel Document
The Honorable Rush Holt Representative for the 12th Congressional District of New Jersey Document
The Honorable Danny Werfel Controller U.S. Office of Management and Budget Document
Ms. Cynthia Metzler Chief Administrative Officer U.S. General Services Administration Document