Restrictions on federal travel pass Senate committee

By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division

On July 29, the AVMA joined nearly 70 other scientific societies in sending a letter to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs expressing concerns about current and proposed restrictions on the ability for federal and contractor scientists to participate in scientific and technical conferences.

The Senate committee on July 30 passed legislation to codify existing regulations restricting the number of federal employees who can attend international conferences and limit spending by any federal agency for a single conference. The committee approved, by voice vote, a bipartisan substitute amendment to the Conference Accountability Act of 2013 (S. 1347). Also, the amended bill requires congressional pre-notification for waivers of these limits and creates additional reporting requirements for conference spending over $50,000.

The AVMA maintains that the coordination and collaboration at meetings and conferences is beneficial to both the public and private sectors and for maintaining animal health and welfare. In their letter, the organizations represented their concern about the current and proposed restrictions:

“The Coburn-Heitkamp substitute to S. 1347, Conference Accountability Act of 2013, would raise existing barriers and perpetuate unintended negative consequences the administration’s regulations have already imposed on our scientific enterprise and national competitiveness. Scientific and technical conferences help maintain a ‘talented and interconnected workforce’—one of the three critical pillars of a vibrant, economically productive scientific enterprise….These conferences promote collaborations between federal scientists and those in private industry and academia, provide for rapid dissemination of federally funded research results, and provide high quality professional development for the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

The letter states that the negative impact created by budget cuts to federal research agencies in combination with the implementation of restrictive travel policies in the Office of Management and Budget’s Memorandum M-12-12 has resulted in a precipitous drop in federal employees’ attendance, which has led to canceled conferences and fewer speaking invitations for government scientists.

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