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House Lawmakers Target Meeting Spend

The U.S. House of Representative passed a new bill November 18 that covers some old ground—cutting spending on government meetings.

The bill, the DATA Act (H.R. 2061), is actually a new version of a bill that passed in the House in 2012 under the previous congress (H.R. 2146). The new DATA Act calls for the same restrictions on conference spending as another bill currently making its way through Congress, the Government Spending and Accounting Act (H.R. 313). It was approved by the House on July 31, 2013. Neither HR 2061 nor HR 313 has gone before the Senate.

Both bills call for federal agencies to cut spending on government meetings and travel to 70 percent of 2010 levels. Among other provisions, each mandates that no meeting may cost more than $500,000 without a waiver and that agencies can’t send more than 50 employees to an international conference.

Travel and meetings industry leaders blasted the latest bill. “Lawmakers are seeking publicity for tackling a number of well-publicized incidents from several years ago in which government travel budgets were unquestionably abused by a few irresponsible parties, but those issues were already addressed by new accountability protocols at the administrative level,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “And if the goal is to save money, sequestration has already drastically reduced travel budgets until 2021—there’s nothing left to cut.” The bill would only hamper government productivity, added Dow.

“If enacted, H.R. 2061 would threaten key agencies’ ability to effectively operate and ultimately result in lost jobs,” said Michael McCormick, executive director and chief operating officer at the Global Business Travel Association.

“On the heels of the significant impacts of sequestration and the recent 16-day government shutdown that cost the industry $115.2 million in lost economic activity, passage of this legislation only holds further bad news for hoteliers,” stated Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

While the DATA Act, sponsored by Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) passed by a huge margin, 388-1, the vote count shouldn’t be mistaken for widespread support, says Erik Hansen, director, domestic policy at U.S. Travel. The conference spending provision is only one part of the larger bill, which focuses on government transparency. Also, he says, it’s not unusual for a bill being reintroduced to a new Congress that’s already been vetted and approved to be pushed through.

The DATA Act will face challenges in the Senate, says Hansen. However, U.S. Travel will be working to make sure the harmful provisions for meetings aren’t in there when and if it does come before the Senate for a vote.

The Issa bill is largely duplicative of the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget guidelines for conference and travel spending. But in at least one important way, it’s more restrictive: it does not have allowances for essential travel within the agencies, says Hansen. “It takes a meat axe approach and that’s not any way you’d run a business, let alone one of the largest organizations in the country, the U.S. government,” says Hansen. “We don’t think the across the board cuts are productive and that’s something we'd absolutely like to see removed.”


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