Travel spending by federal agencies would be cut to 30 percent below the 2010 level under a bill approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. 

The Government Spending Accountability Act, introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) and approved by a voice vote, would maintain the travel spending cap through 2017.  The bill would also place restrictions and require detailed reporting on federal government employee attendance at conferences held in the United States and abroad.

Military travel expenses involving combat, training and deployment of military personnel, and other travel expenses determined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be exempted under the bill

The bill would limit agency spending on a single conference to $500,000.  For international conferences, agency payment of travel expenses would be limited to 50 employees stationed in the U.S. for any one international conference.

Agencies would be required under the bill to post on a public website quarterly reports on travel expenses incurred during the previous quarter.  These reports would list itemized expenses for travel and conference support, conference locations, and conference sponsors. 

For conferences sponsored by the agency, the on-line report would explain how the agency mission was advanced by employee attendance.  It would describe the location selection criteria, including cost efficiency; include a cost benefit analysis of holding a conference vis-à-vis a teleconference; and describe financial support provided by a private entity.  The report would also show the number of individuals attending the conference and the title of employees or non-federal employees for which the agency paid conference travel expenses.

Agencies would also be required to post on the agency’s website information on any presentation presented by an agency employee including  the prepared text, and visual, digital, and audio materials.

Conferences affected by the bill are meetings, retreats, seminars, symposia, or events held for “consultation, education, discussion, or training,” not held entirely at a government facility, and for which a federal employee travels more than 25 miles.  Covered international conferences are those conferences held outside the U.S. and attended by representatives of the U.S. government and foreign governments, international organizations, or foreign nongovernmental organizations.

The House committee bill includes many provisions that are similar to direction OMB recently gave to federal agencies on reducing travel costs and managing participation in conferences.  Under OMB direction, agencies are to hold travel spending in FY2013 to at least 30 percent less than they spent in FY2010 and to maintain that level through FY2016. 

OMB also issued new policies on conference sponsorship, hosting, and attendance.  OMB direction prohibits agencies from spending more than $500,000 of its funds for a single conference, unless the agency head determines that the conference “is the most cost-effective option to achieve a compelling purpose.”  Agency Deputy Secretaries are to review and approve spending for every conference sponsored or hosted by the agency for which expenses exceed $100,000.  In addition, agencies will post on the agency public website spending levels and a description of all conferences over $100,000.

One difference between the House committee bill and the OMB direction that is important to the Department of Defense is the definition of an agency.  The committee bill references 5 USC Sec 5701, which defines an agency as an Executive agency or a military department.  The OMB direction references 31 USC Sec 901(b), which does not define a Military Department as a separate agency.