In the two years following the release of a report on excessive spending at the GSA's 2010 Western Regions Conference, there has been a steady stream of federal policy and legislation — both passed and pending — aimed at regulating the costs of government meetings. Here are some of the highlights:
The General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Inspector General releases a report on spending abuses
at GSA's 2010 Western Regions Conference, a five-day meeting for 300 people outside Las Vegas that cost $823,000 and involved expenses for a mind reader, tuxedo rentals, and commemorative coins.
The report prompts audits which, over the next 12 months, turn up questions surrounding a $4.1-million Internal Revenue Service conference in Anaheim, Calif. in 2010, and two Department of Veterans Affairs human-resources conferences totaling $6.1 million, held in Orlando in 2011.
Outraged by perception of lavish government conferences being staged on the taxpayer's tab, the U.S. House of Representatives passes the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act of 2012
. The measure would have capped federal spending on conferences and required agencies to post conference-spending details on their websites. The Senate never votes on it.
The White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issues a memo
calling on federal agencies to reduce spending on travel by at least 30 percent from fiscal 2010 levels through fiscal 2016.
The memo also initiates a senior-level review of conferences costing more than $100,000, requires the spending details of these conferences to be posted on the agency's website, and caps expenditures on a single conference at $500,000 unless written approval is given by the agency's head executive.
Sequestration goes into effect
, applying automatic spending cuts to the federal budget.
OMB issues new guidance
on conference spending, stressing that agencies should not consider the earlier OMB guidance as a moratorium on travel or conference attendance.
The House passes the Government Spending Accountability Act
, which would have limited spending on travel and conferences for the next five years and required detailed quarterly reports to be posted on each agency's website for any event costing more than $10,000. The Senate does not take any action on the bill.
The House passes the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act of 2013
, which contains provisions that would codify earlier OMB restrictions on government travel and extend the 30-percent reduction in government travel expenditures from 2016 to 2018. The measure also would mandate that no meeting may cost more than $500,000 without a written waiver, and require agencies to make conference records publicly available, including all conference costs exceeding $10,000.
The bill has been sent to the Senate, which hasn't voted on it. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs has approved its own version of the DATA Act, but it doesn't include provisions on government travel. The full Senate hasn't voted on the committee's measure.
The Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee holds a hearing
on “Examining Conference and Travel Spending Across the Federal Government,” during which OMB reports $3 billion in savings in travel and conference spending for fiscal 2013 compared with fiscal 2010. Dozens of organizations submit written statements decrying the decline in federal attendance at meetings across a spectrum of professions and industries.
Congress passes a $1.1-trillion omnibus spending bill, funding the federal government for fiscal 2014. The bill contains provisions that codify restrictions outlined in OMB's 2012 memo.
It also requires agencies to inform their inspectors general of conference costs exceeding $20,000, and limits attendance at international conferences to 50 employees from an agency unless they are law-enforcement personnel.