Congress steps up efforts to control conference costs
Officials would have to get approval from the top for conferences costing as little as $25,000 under a new bill.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) introduced the Agency Conferences and Conventions Operating Under Necessary Transparency (ACCOUNT) Act (H.R. 4454) on April 19. On top of the $25,000 approval provision, the bill would only allow the agency ahead to approve the money if the conference is necessary to the core mission of the agency. Although other legislation introduced recently would also limit conference expenditures, Fleischmann's proposal offers the most restrictive threshold amount by far.
Fleischmann also wants agencies to post details about their conference a month afterward. The reports would have to include a summary of the purpose of the conference, total cost and the cost per employee attending. Finally, each agency would be required to submit an annual report on their conference activities to lawmakers.
“The ACCOUNT Act will ensure that conferences are focused on core functions of executive agencies, and are careful with our tax dollars,” Fleischmann said.
Fleischmann also said his bill is based on the scandal inside the General Services Administration, as it spent more than $822,000 on a Las Vegas conference for 300 GSA employees.
That conference, called the 2010 Western Regions Conference, landed numerous GSA officials in front of four congressional committees in three days. Martha Johnson resigned as GSA administrator, before the GSA inspector general released the report with details about the conference. She fired two top GSA officials just before she submitted her resignation to the White House. Several senior GSA officials are on administrative leave, including the conference organizer Jeff Neely, a GSA regional commissioner.
Fleischmann’s bill is one of several proposals aimed at tackling agencies’ spending on conferences.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced she plans to introduce legislation that would require a senior agency official, such as the chief management officer, to give approval for any conference costing more than $200,000. The bill is expected to require reports to Congress as well.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) proposed an amendment to the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S. 1798) April 19 that would bar an agency from spending more than $500,000 for a single conference. The amendment would also require detailed quarterly reports. Senators have been working toward agreement about his amendments to the reform bill, and it’s now likely senators will consider the amendments.
Echoing many other members of Congress throughout the week, Fleischmann said, “The days of extravagant government conferences will quickly come to an end.”
Matthew Weigelt is a former FCW senior writer who covered acquisition and procurement.