Congress moves to restrict federal funding for conferences and travel

In response to the recent outrage over the General Services Administration training conference in Las Vegas, members of Congress have proposed legislation that would restrict federal funding for conferences. On April 25, identical amendments were added to different bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that would limit federal spending on private conferences.

Each amendment would prohibit federal agencies from funding more than a single conference sponsored or organized by an organization during any fiscal year. This language could be particularly problematic for scientific societies, like ASBMB, that receive funding from the National Institutes of Health for multiple conferences and symposia each year.

The amendment also would restrict the participation of government scientists in public meetings, scientific conferences and professional society activities. The amendment language is such that it could mean NIH employees would be allowed to attend only one conference sponsored by a professional association, nonprofit group or corporation per year.

Several scientific societies and coalitions have written to Congress to explain the effects such drastic restrictions could have on the research enterprise. The American Society of Association Executives sent a letter, signed by more than 2,000 organizations, proposing changes to the amendment language that would ease the travel restrictions. The American Association for the Advancement of Science also sent a letter, signed by 51 scientific societies including ASBMB, urging Congress to allow greater flexibility for government employees to attend scientific and technical conferences organized by professional societies and nongovernmental organizations.

The Senate amendment was added to the Postal Service Act (S. 1789). The Postal Service Act has considerable Congressional momentum, as it already has passed through the Senate and is expected to be the vehicle upon which the amendment moves forward.

The ASBMB public affairs staff will continue to monitor this legislation and keep you informed about its movement in Congress.

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