Sequestration Takes its Toll on Travel and Conference Expenditures

NASA fell in line with the Department of Defense by cutting its travel and conference expenditures in 2013, preparing itself for the tolls of sequestration.

The agency has not banned travel and conference attendance entirely, allowing employees to focus on regional or “Local Center” events. However, following President Obama’s executive order to promote efficient spending in government agencies, NASA announced in a statement to FCW:

NASA has moved aggressively to reduce its conference spending, and over the past calendar year has reduced costs by 30 percent.  In addition, the agency reduced travel costs by $21 million in fiscal year 2012. As we address the impact of sequestration on the agency’s operations, we will continue to look for ways to more efficiently and cost-effectively carry out the agency’s missions of exploration, scientific discovery, and research and development.

The new rule went into effect on March 19. For NASA employees to obtain approval to attend an event, it must:

  • Be “essential and/or necessary;”
  • Contribute to NASA’s core mission;
  • “Substantially involve” the attendee (moderating a panel does not qualify, though presenting may); and
  • Remote participation by phone or video conference is not possible;

As we reported on the FedPulse blog, efforts to reduce travel and increase oversight in travel and conference spending have saved the federal government roughly $2 billion from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2012, showing that this news is not much of a surprise considering the current environment.

This backs up a December 27 General Services Administration (GSA) announcement that the agency plans to develop the Government-wide Travel Advisory Committee that will present regular advice on ways to:

  • Improve travel efficiency and effectiveness
  • Reduce costs
  • Develop a list of useable best practices
  • Promote sustainability efforts.

“By keeping per diem rates at current levels, we are supporting federal agencies in controlling costs,” said GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini. However, Tangherlini has also expressed concern that GSA may have overcompensated following last year’s event spending scandal, and employees will lose valuable training as a result of more than $10 million in cuts to the agency’s conference and travel spending.

By keeping per diem rates at current levels, we are supporting federal agencies in controlling costs.

government market research poll by Market Connections in January showed 38% of government employees are planning to attend fewer educational and trade events in FY2013 than last fiscal year.  The majority of poll respondents said budgetary and agency travel restrictions are the cause, and just over one-third of respondents reported that management would not allow them to attend events in 2013.

NASA’s plan to reduce travel and conference expenditures does come with a silver lining since the agency does not plan to furlough employees, nor have changes been made to its hiring policy.

The fallout from the sequester will continue until a budget deal is reached. Unfortunately, it appears that more government-sponsored events will be cancelled or localized as a result. On the other hand, contractors can continue to reach government employees with smaller, targeted content-specific local events.

 

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