U.S. Senators Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Jeffrey Chiesa (R-NJ), and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a bill to reduce travel expenses by scaling back overall spending on government-sponsored conferences, establishing attendance limitations to protect from excessive and unnecessary travel, capping the amount that can be spent on a single conference at $500,000, and requiring all conference expenses to be published online.
“Time and time again, taxpayers are frustrated by extravagant and expensive conferences that are exposed after conferences take place,” said Dr. Coburn. “This bill will help prevent such egregious spending from happening in the first place while forcing agencies to disclose how much they have spent on conferences."
“Government agencies should be required to prioritize and cut the worst first,” said Senator Enzi. “By requiring costs to be put online it gives the public an opportunity to judge for themselves how their money is being spent.”
“With $17 trillion in debt, it’s unacceptable that federal agencies continue to waste taxpayer dollars on excessive conference expenses,” said Senator Ayotte. “Americans deserve to know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and efficiently, and this legislation will set strict limits on conference spending, and boost accountability and transparency.”
"Taxpayers deserve accountability for the use of their hard earned tax dollars and we have seen far too many examples of misspent funds on lavish travel and inane conference activities,” said Senator Chiesa. “This measure will help shine a bright light on wasteful spending and raise standards for how government agencies use our money."
“Distrust in Washington is at an all time high due in part to ongoing reports of millions being wasted on conferences at federal agencies like the GSA and the IRS,” said Senator McCain. “This common sense bill would provide greater transparency and accountability on how agencies spend taxpayer dollars.”
Specifically, the bill:
- Prohibits agencies from paying for travel expenses for more than 50 employees for any conference occurring outside of the United States, unless the Secretary of State certifies it is in the national interest.
- Requires agencies to post reports on their website that include each conference, including itemized expenses such as travel costs, lodging, food, costs for scouting and selecting the location, and any other cost. Also requires detailed information about the sponsors, location, a justification of how it relates to the agency mission, cost-benefit analysis, job titles of attendees, and other information.
- Prohibits agencies from spending more than 80% of their total conference expenditure of 2010 for the next 4 years. 2010 was the pinnacle of excessive conference spending.
- Requires OMB to establish guidelines for what expenses constitute travel expenses for conferences.
- Requires agencies to publish on their website the minutes, speeches, exhibits, videos, and sponsors of conferences.
- Prohibits an agency from spending more than $500,000 on any single conference.
- Only allows agencies to expend funds on one conference each year for each outside group.
- Prevents an agency from establishing or implementing a policy that discourages or prevents selecting a conference location that is perceived to be a resort or vacation destination.
Recent reports of outlandish conference spending include:
- With a history of excessive conference spending, the Department of Education is planning another Las Vegas conference for December 2013 which has been estimated to cost $970,000.
- $50 million spent by the IRS between 2010 and 2012 on 220 conferences.
- Over $800,000 spent by the GSA in 2012 on a single conference in Las Vegas.
- $58 million spent by the DOJ in 2012 for conferences in Indonesia, Senegal, and Northern Mariana Islands among others.