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House panel passes bill to curb travel spending

Mar. 20, 2013 - 05:30PM   |  

A House panel voted Wednesday to curb federal travel spending by capping agency spending on conferences — at $500,000 per event — and require quarterly reports itemizing travel, lodging, meals and other conference costs.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s approval of the measure — called the Government Spending Accountability Act, HR 313 — is the latest step by lawmakers to crack down on travel spending in the wake of conference scandals at the General Services Administration and Veterans Affairs Department.

“The intent of the bill is obviously to make sure that we know what the conference was about, what it was justified for, and of course the expenditures, including expenditures such as the ones we’ve seen for clowns and movies and so one,” said committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., referencing GSA’s 2010 Las Vegas conference that featured clowns and mind readers.

Under the measure, agencies would be prohibited from sending more than 50 employees to international conferences unless it is of national interest or the agency determines sending additional people is critical to its mission. The bill would also require agencies to obtain a waiver that justifies spending more than $500,000 for a conference and codify Office of Management and Budget policies instructing agencies to reduce federal travel spending 30 percent below 2010 levels.

Some lawmakers, however, are concerned the bill will create a chilling effect and hamper employees’ ability to collaborate and do their jobs.

“This is a bill that’s well intentioned and designed to try to reform a mess that occurred with one agency and to make sure it does not reoccur,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va, who voted against the bill. “I am worried about the chilling effects.”

Other bills passed by the committee include:

• The Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act, HR 249, would require agencies to fire employees who have a “seriously delinquent tax debt.” Agencies could make exceptions for financial hardship cases and other reasons. Potential employees who fail to pay taxes would be ineligible for federal employment.

• The Contracting and Tax Accountability Act, HR 882, would prohibit contractors from receiving federal business if they owe taxes.

• The Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act, HR 328, would create a pilot program to auction off 15 excess federal properties with the highest value, over a five-year period. Properties exempt from the program include bases scheduled to be closed or realigned and U.S. Postal Service facilities.

• The Federal Information Security Amendments Act, HR 1163, would require agencies to continuously monitor the security of federal information systems. The bill would also require agencies to appoint a chief information security officer or senior official to oversee information security programs and enforce compliance with security standards.

• The Federal Information Technology Acquisition and Reform Act, HR 1232, would require each agency have a single chief information officer with the necessary authority to determine how information technology funds are spent. CIOs would have greater flexibility to fund cloud projects through a working capital fund and would be required to track costs and savings under the administration’s data center consolidation initiative.

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