Thursday, May 3, 2012

Congress Can’t Even Agree How To Stop Agency Conference Excesses

After a week peppered with five House and Senate subcommittee hearings into the well publicized excesses of the GSA’s 2010 Las Vegas regional conference, you would think Congress would be jumping all over legislative measures to curb such wasting of taxpayer funds in the future. You would be mistaken.

While the House promptly brought to its floor and passed HR 2146, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, slashing agency conference budgets 20% across the board, capping single conference costs at half a million dollars, limiting attendance at international meetings to 50 or fewer employees and requiring agency conference spending to be made public on every government website, that legislation went to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, where it ran head on into Nevada Senator Dean Heller’s SB 2469, which would prohibit government agencies from adopting policies against using resort destinations as locations for their meetings.

Rather than watching the conflagration which could have resulted from this legislative impasse, the Senate unanimously consented to add the DATA Act as an amendment to the Postal Service reform measure it has under consideration, and which will languish in a conference committee when Representatives and Senators can’t figure out how to make the Postal Service cut expenses dramatically without closing any post offices or mail handling centers that mean jobs to someone’s constituents. When will we know that federal agency conference spending is actually under control? Only when a bill gets through both houses of Congress and is signed by President Obama. Earl Devaney, former Chairman of the stimulus spending RAT board, put it succinctly: “Nothing makes a bureaucrat move faster than a piece of legislation. Legislation is the only way to get all these agencies to do the same thing at the same time.”

So, years from now when the press in trumpeting investigations of yet another resort based, lavish government agency conference, you will remember what happened when the bill to control and report these excesses was mired in Congressional gridlock.

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