OMB to agencies: Cut travel, conference spending

Friday - 5/11/2012, 9:25pm EDT

The Office of Management and Budget issued new guidance Friday, directing federal agencies to cut travel spending by 30 percent starting in October and prohibiting more than $500,000 to be spent on conferences.

In addition, agencies will be required to provide annual public reports detailing conference spending.

In a post titled "Continuing to Crack Down on Government Waste" on the OMB blog, acting director Jeffrey Zients called the latest move "another important step forward" in cutting inefficient federal spending.

The new guidance directs agencies to find savings in travel, conference and real estate costs.

Travel

  • The memo requires agencies to spend at least 30 percent less on travel expenses than in FY 2010 through 2016.

  • Agencies must report to OMB within 90 days their plans for meeting the target reduction and must include in their FY 2014 budget request an explanation of how they'll make the reductions sustainable.

  • In the guidance, OMB encourages agencies to "consult and collaborate" with agency inspectors general "on the appropriate ways to reduce taravel for oversight and investigatory purposes, while maintaining the independence and capacity of IGs."

Conference spending

  • The new memo requires senior-level review of all planned conferences and approval from senior leadership on conferences expected to exceed $100,000.

  • The OMB memo blocks agencies from spending more than $500,000 on events. The agency's head can issue a waiver, "if he or she determines that exceptional circumstances exist whereby spending in excess of $500,000 on a single conference is the most cost-effective option to achieve a compelling purpose."

  • Agencies will also be required to publicly post conference spending reports each January, detailing the previous years' conference costs.

Real property

  • Agencies are already under requirements to dispose of excess properties. However, the new guidance freezes agencies' civilian real estate inventory.

  • The memo states: "Acquisition of new federal building space ... that increases an agency's total square footage of civilian property must be offset through consolidations, co-locations or disposals of space from the inventory of that agency."

"These are all common sense steps that will save taxpayer dollars by eliminating waste and improving government operations — all while maintaining the core government functions that the American people count on," Zients wrote.

The latest mandate "builds upon work already underway to scrutinize travel and conference budgets," Zients said, citing an executive order President Barack Obama issued in November directing agencies to cut spending on travel and conferences.

Since OMB first directed agencies to review travel and conference spending last September, Zients said agencies have developed plans that would provide a total of $1.2 billion in savings if fully implemented.

Left unsaid, however, was any mention of the $823,000 conference hosted by the General Services Administration in 2010, which, when revealed in the press, led to firings and resignations and kicked off a flurry of congressional action.

The House unanimously passed a bill last month limiting agency conference spending to $500,000 and capping travel to attend conferences at 80 percent of fiscal-year 2010 levels.

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