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.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1986, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

  • Shutterstock image.

    Merged IT modernization bill punts on funding

    A House panel approved a new IT modernization bill that appears poised to pass, but key funding questions are left for appropriators.

  • General Frost

    Army wants cyber capability everywhere

    The Army's cyber director said cyber, electronic warfare and information operations must be integrated into warfighters' doctrine and training.

  • Rising Star 2013

    Meet the 2016 Rising Stars

    FCW honors 30 early-career leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Mon, Apr 23, 2012 IT Manager

This Congress is the least productive in modern history, and so is trying to divert the public from their dysfunction by staging pointless hearings and endless debates. Some managers went nuts, and it seems like the process worked the way it should have--the IG nailed them, and a bunch of executives were forced out. We're spending 200 times that amount every day in Afghanistan. 200 times!!! Now that is criminal.

Mon, Apr 23, 2012

Here we go again. You have one bad apple cause a knee JURK reaction from the kings of waste and abuse of tax payer money. The GSA abuse case had to have broken some existing law or regulation. Alright punish accordingly and be done with it. I think that we need a law that any congressional inquiry that costs more than $100,000 has to be approve by the voters.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group