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Research group pushes back against travel cuts

Aug. 5, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Amtrak National Train Day 2014 - Albuquerque, NM
Restrictions on federal travel are keeping government scientists from needed conferences, group warns. (Steve Snowden / Getty Images for Amtrak)

Travel restrictions put into place by the Office of Management and Budget are hurting morale and putting national security at risk, according to the International Society for Optics and Photonics.

Federal researchers cannot get in-depth updates on the latest results if they cannot travel to technical conferences, in the United States or overseas, said Eugene Arthurs, the CEO of SPIE.

The travel restrictions were in response to an April 2012 inspector general report that detailed a 2010 General Services Administration conference which cost $823,000 and forced out the agency’s top leaders, sparking congressional hearings and legislation.

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In May 2012, the Office of Management and Budget released a memo directing agencies to reduce travel spending by 30 percent compared with 2010 levels and to maintain those levels through 2016. Agencies also have to report annually on any conference spending in excess of $100,000, and employees must seek senior management approval for conference spending.

SPIE gathered feedback from its federal employee members and discovered that:

Federal scientists are isolated from the outside research and development community

Early-career professionals are unable to form professional connections, present their work or partake in educational resources, which harms their career advancement.

The output of research being published by some agencies has hit a new low, and federal researchers are less likely to co-author a paper with an outside scientist.

“We will continue to pursue a reasonable resolution to this issue and to advocate for our constituents working for the federal government,” Arthurs said."We recognize that we have a self-interest in this, but our work has been initiated by and driven by SPIE leadership who see the serious potential damage to the government science and technology infrastructure.”

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