By Meghan McCabe
On January 14, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled “Examining Conference and Travel Spending Across the Federal Government” to examine reductions in travel and conference spending at the Department of Justice, General Services Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service. The hearing was held in response to criticisms from the media and Congress for excessive spending over the past several years by these three agencies.
Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget Beth Colbert, who was one of the witnesses testifying at the hearing, referenced scientific meetings in her written testimony and opening statement, emphasizing the importance of physical colocation for sparking new and innovative collaborations among scientists. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked the first panel if any harm was being done by the current cutbacks. Ms. Colbert responded that all agencies are having “tough conversations” and making difficult choices. However, she cited the National Institutes of Health peer-review panels hosted by teleconference after the government shut down last October as a very positive step and a good way to lower travel spending in the future. She also stated that using teleconferencing for peer review allowed for a broader pool of reviewers because participation wasn’t limited to those willing or able to travel.
Overall, the tone of the meeting was remarkably more positive than some of the previous hearings regarding reductions in travel and conference spending across the agencies. The Committee Chairman, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), reiterated several times that no one wants to unduly burden the agencies with overly restrictive regulations, but rather ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent.
Written testimony and an archived webcast of the hearing are available on the Committee’s webpage.