Part of the response to the reported excesses in conference spending involving the General Services Administration has been to restrict conference and travel spending across the government. Several pieces of legislation are working through Congress to implement such restrictions. However, we believe that the legislation, as currently written, would have unintended consequences for scientific, technical and education meetings.
To better express these concerns to policymakers, USACM joined with colleagues at the Computing Research Association, The IEEE-USA and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics to send a letter to key Members of Congress and the Obama Administration.
In the letter we explain that the proposed restrictions on travel and conference expenses would curtail the ability of government scientists and engineers to interact with other members of their professional communities. Such interactions are an important part of the work of any scientists or engineer. The meeting are a means for researchers to stay current in their field and maintain professional contacts.
Additionally, these conferences can provide opportunities for government scientists and engineers to support the missions of their agencies. They can monitor government funded research, identify areas for possible future government support, identify potential recruits for government positions, and otherwise make sure government has access to the best information and best people.
We encourage policymakers to designate scientific, technical and education meetings as exempt from the conference spending limits proposed in the bills. The review processes already in place for these conferences serve as useful controls on spending, which means they already serve the purpose that the bills are trying to fulfill. Similarly, we also ask that national and international standards bodies be exempt from further restriction. Besides the reasons explained above, such meeting are important to national economic interests, and full U.S. participation needs to be encouraged.
One of the bills, H.R. 4631, is up for consideration by the full House this week. With the limited legislative calendar prior to the November elections, it’s unclear how far this, or any of the other bills, may advance in this Congress.