Federal Travel Restrictions Loosened

President Obama has released a memorandum lifting many of the restrictions in place surrounding federal employee attendance at conferences and events.

Since 2012, the process and conditions required for federal employees to gain approval to attend conferences prevented many from attending and properly doing their jobs. The reduction of 25 percent equated to a savings of $30 million.

While regulations will still be in place, the focus will be on federally sponsored or hosted events. Government agencies will now be held to accountability standards, which include publishing information on their public websites about conference attendance with an overall cost greater than $100,000. They must also include the  date and location of the conference, the number of staffers attending, total expenditures, and an explanation of how the event advanced the mission of the agency.

Agencies will now be able to pre-approve attendance at reoccurring events, allowing for the cost savings bonus of early registration discounts and advance travel arrangements. If a conference will cost more than $500,000 for an agency to attend, an agency official must document in writing why the event is the most cost-effective way to achieve the organization’s purpose.

The memorandum says government officials must continue to root out wasteful spending, but it hints at a lesson learned by agencies while they were subjected to such tight controls on conferences. “These changes incorporate the lessons learned over the past several years and recognize the resulting actions that agencies have taken during that time,” the memorandum says, though it also acknowledges that it has impeded the ability of employees to do their jobs to some extent. “These changes also respond to challenges agencies faced as a result of OMB Memorandum M-12-12, including reduced opportunities to perform useful agency functions, present scientific findings and innovations, train, recruit, and retain employees, or share best practices,” the document says.

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