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Support for S&T Conferences

Issue Brief

The 2012 GSA Conferences scandal prompted Congress to propose draconian restrictions on federal conferences and meetings, that affected participation by federal scientists and engineers in S&T conferences.  The White House Office of Management and Budget responded in 2012 with a directive outlining a 30% cut to federal support of travel and meetings.  This directive, compounded by federal budget sequestration, significantly reduced federal support for conferences, especially in the S&T area, to the detriment of federal scientists and engineers and their professional development, to the federal agencies who use conference participation to advance their missions, and to the organizations who organize and support conferences.  IEEE-USA has been working with IEEE's Technical Activities to actively support the interests of IEEE and its U.S. members on this topic, both directly and in partnership with other concerned organizations. 

New and Notable

On 25 Nov. 2016, OMB released an updated memorandum to agency heads (M-17-08) emphasizing the importance of S&T conferences to agency missions, allowing agencies to delegate approvals to an “appropriate official," and authorizing pre-approval of known, recurring conferences.

NASA has released updated guidance effective 31 March 2016 exempting a list of eight specific conferences/ events from the requirement of a waiver, raising the waiver amount for other conferences to $90K, and extending the 50 person limit on NASA participation in foreign conferences to 50 NASA employees and 50 contractors.

A PMIC Impact Study and Report released on 22 March 2016 projects “mission-critical” risks to the U.S. economy, health and national security if restrictive federal travel policies stay in place.

The conference report (H.Rept. 114-270) accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 (H.R. 1735) contains a section calling for "expedited approval for attendance at conferences in support of science and innovation activities" at DoD and NNSA and warns that "conference attendance approval policies are undermining and eroding the science and technology missions of both departments as well as the ability of personnel to engage in cutting-edge research, development, testing, and evaluation."

On 3 August 2015, the IEEE-USA Board approved an updated IEEE-USA position statement on the Participation in Conferences by Federal Scientists and Engineers.

A proposed amendment to provide more flexibility to the executive branch in updating its travel-related policies was introduced and withdrawn during a 23 July markup of the FY 2016 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (H.R. 2995)


Rep. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) has introduced the Stay in Place - Reduce the Waste Act (H.R. 2810), which calls for a 50% reduction in Federal travel spending over FY 2015 levels through agressive use of video-conferencing.


The Senate version of the FY2016 Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill reported by committee on June 11, includes language that would allow the White House to update its federal travel guidance with respect to agencies covered in the appropration:

Sec. 535(e) None of the funds made available in this or any other appropriations Act may be used for travel and conference activities that are not in compliance with Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-12-12 dated May 11, 2012 or any subsequent revisions to that memorandum.

Senate Armed Services Committee Report (114-49) (p70) accompanying National Defense Authorization Act for FY2016 calls for DoD/NNSA to adjudicate STEM conference travel requests within one month. (May 2015)

The 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6) (Sect. 1025) states "sense of Congress that participation in or sponsorship of scientific conferences and meetings is essential to the mission of the National Institutes of Health." (May 2015)

Rep. Farenholdt (R-TX) reintroduces GSA Act of 2015 (H.R. 2032), which calls for sharp cuts in federal travel spending and limits participation in foreign conferences (May 2015).

In May 2015, OMB released a Controller's Alert, which authorizes agencies to provide pre-approvals for recurring and non-government sponsored conferences:

Pre-approvals for Recurring Events and Non-Government Sponsored Conferences.  Each agency is responsible for implementing its own internal travel and conference policies, and each agency needs to achieve the right balance between reducing spending and meeting mission critical needs. As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in Government operations. To prevent lengthy and cumbersome review processes that could hinder an agency’s ability to carry out their mission in an efficient and effective manner, agencies should pre-approve known reoccurring conferences and attendance at non-government sponsored conferences. Pre-approving an event does not exclude it from annual reporting requirements.

"The NIH spend more money on travel paperwork than on researching Hodgkin's Disease," Bloomberg Business (9 April 2015)

"The collatoral damage of conference restrictions," Nat'l Defense Magazine (April 2015)

"The federal government is spending a lot of money trying not to spend money on travel," Washington Post (23 March 2015)

Government Accountability Office Report (March 15):  Defense S&T - Further DoD and DoE Actions Needed to Provide Timely Conference Decisions and Analyze Risks from Changes in Participation (GAO-15-278)

3 Oct. 2014 Letter by the National Academy Presidents to the President's Office of Management and Budget

Related IEEE-USA and IEEE Policy Communications

23 July 2015 Coalition Letter to Sens. Shatz and Coons Requesting a Federal Travel Policy Amendment To the FY 2015 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (H.R. 2995)
21 April 2015 Coalition Letter to Senate CST, House SSTC, House HSGAC, and House/Senate Appropriations Expressing Concerns Regarding Impacts of Administration Regulations and Legislative Initiatives Related to Government Travel on the Nation's Science and Engineering Enterprise.
20 April 2015 Letter to Rep. Dan Lipinski (and members of House SSTC) Endorsing a Proposed Amendment on Importance of Federal STEM Travel to the American COMPETES Reauthorizatio, Act of 2015 (H.R. 1086).
24 Nov. 2014 Coalition Email to Selected House and Senate Appropriations Staffers Urging an Exclusion for S&T Conferences from Restrictions on Int'l Conference Attendance in the FY15 Omnibus Appropriations Bill
8 Sept. 2014 Coalition Letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid and Republican Leader McConnell Urging Against Senate Action on the Conference Accountability Act (S. 1347).
29 July 2014 Coalition Letter to Senators Carper and Coburn Expressing Concerns Regarding the Conference Accountability Act (S.1347)
14 July 2014 Coalition Letter to Senator Levin Endorsing Amendment to Conference Accountability Act of 2013 (S.1347) With Simplified Waiver Process for Federal Participation in International Conferences.
30 June 2014 Letter to GAO On Impacts of Federal Policy Restricting Participation of U.S. Federally-Funded Scientists and Engineers in STEM Conferences.
16 Jan. 2014 Statement (Letter) to Sen. Carper For Record of Hearing on Examining Conference and Travel Spending Across the Federal Government.
29 May 2013 Coalition Letter to Senator Reid and selected Senate leaders Urging Legislative Guidance Exempting Federal Employee Travel to S&T-related Conferences From Restrictions Outlined in OMB Directive M-12-12.
17 April 2013 Coalition Letter (CNSF+) to the federal Office of Management and Budget Proposing Revisions to Federal Travel Policy to Facilitate Participation of Federal Employees in S&T Activities.
18 March 2013 Letter to Senate Leadership and Appropriations Committee Members Opposing Senate Amendment 67 To the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (HR 933) Restricting Federal Participation in Conferences
18 March 2013 Coalition (ASAE) Letter Opposing Senate Amendment 67 To the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (HR 933) Restricting Federal Participation in Conferences
6 March 2013 Letter to Rep. Rush Holt Concerning The Importance of Participation by Federal Scientists and Engineers in Science and Technical Conferences.
27 Feb. 2013 Coalition Letter to Rep. Blake Farentholt, chair of the House Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Census, regarding participation of federal scientists and engineers in S&T conferences.
25 Oct. 2012 Coalition Letter to Key Congressional Leaders Regarding Participation of Federal Scientists and Engineers in Professional Exchanges.
10 Sept. 2012 Coalition Letter (with ACM, CRA & SIAM) Proposed Scientific, Technical and Educational Meeting Exemption from Conference Restrictions Outlined in the GSA Act (H.R. 46341)
21 May 2012 Coalition (AAAS) Letter to House Leaders Boehner and Pelosi Expressing Concerns Regarding Legislation (H.R. 2146/S. 1789) that Would Place Severe Restrictions on Government Employees' Abilities to Attend Meetings and Conferences
7 May 2012 Coalition Letter(ASAE) to U.S. Congress Concerning Restrictions on Government Employees Attending Meetings and Conferences Contained in the “Digital Accountability and Transparency Act” or DATA Act (H.R. 2146) and the “21st Century Postal Service Act” (S. 1789) .

Other Resources

Video: Why Conferences Matter (IEEEtv)

Video: Why Conferences Matter: Discover Your Community (IEEEtv)

GSA Conferences Scandal Affecting Participation of Federal Scientists and Engineers in Society Conferences (Today's Engineer, Dec. 2012)

The Value of Government Meetings, Rockport Analytics (report prepared for U.S. Travel Association) (July 2013)



Take Action Now:
Write To Congress
Expressing Your Views

IEEE-USA Position

Participation in Conferences by Federal
Scientists and Engineers

Executive Actions

OMB Directive M-12-12 (11 May 2012)

Controller Alert - Clarifications on Travel and Conferences (Jan. 2015)

Controller Alert -Travel and Conferences (15 Jan. 2015)

Controller Alert - Travel and Conferences (28 May 2013)

DoD Guidance on Participation in Technical and Industry Conferences (20 Feb. 2014)

DoD Conference Update (23 Sept. 2015)

Controller Alert - Travel and Conferences (May 2015)

NASA Guidance (31 March 2016)

OMB M-17-08 (25 Nov. 2016)


Pending Legislation

Government Spending Accountability (GSA) Act of 2015 (H.R. 2032) (pending in House Oversight Committee)

Stay in Place - Reduce the Waste Act (H.R. 2810) (pending in House Oversight and Appropriations Committees)

Congressional Hearings

Examining Conference and Travel Spending Across the Federal Government, Com. on Homeland Security and Gov't Affairs, U.S. Senate (16 Jan. 2014)

The Road Less Traveled: Reducing Federal Travel and Conference Spending, Com. on Oversight and Gov't Reform, U.S. House of Reps.
(27 Feb. 2013)




Last Update: 29 Nov 2016
Staff Contact:
Chris Brantley

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