CBO: Cut travel costs no slam-dunk savings case

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A bill aimed at curbing federal travel and conference expenses might not be quite the cost-cutting solution originally intended, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Government Spending Accountability Act of 2013 was introduced to curtail and make travel and conference spending more transparent after it was revealed the General Services Administration paid more than $800,000 of taxpayer dollars on a conference in Las Vegas.

H.R. 313 requires agencies to disclose on their websites any information presented by federal employees at a conference. Agencies would also have to report quarterly to Congress any conference, meeting or event involving travel expenses of more than $10,000 over a three-month period.

In addition, the act would limit agencies’ authority over the next five years to obligate funds for travel expenses to 70 percent of the amount spent on travel in 2010. Agencies would also be banned from spending more than $500,000 on a single conference.

Despite its objective to trim costs, the adoption of the legislation “would have no significant net impact on the budget over the 2014-2018 period,” according to an April 11 cost estimate by CBO. Additional minor costs could also be anticipated when agencies prepare reports on travel expenses and publish materials online.

CBO concluded that by reducing agencies’ funds for travel costs over the 2014-2018 period, the legislation would likely result in a shift of spending to other areas. The provision could also lead to increased acquisition and leasing costs for additional equipment.

During a March 20 markup session, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee accepted an amendment that would require an agency head to issue a waiver for international conferences that exceeded the attendance cap, and an amendment to set a minimum threshold for detailed conference reporting.

“The Government Spending Accountability Act is a common-sense approach to curbing unnecessary spending that will save billions of dollars,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said after the bill was adopted. “It will also shine light on wasteful expenditures taking place on taxpayer dime, ensuring that our government is answerable to the people it serves.”

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Agencies, Blake Farenthold, Congress, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Departments, General Services Administration (GSA), Government IT News
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