Federal Budget Office Asks All Agencies to Cut Conference, Travel Costs

May 14, 2012

Since news of the General Services Administration’s $820,000 party in Las Vegas broke, the White House announced its putting the kibosh on the good times that have previously rolled on the taxpayers’ dime.

“One of the Federal government’s most fundamental responsibilities is to serve as a careful steward of taxpayer dollars to make sure that every dollar is well spent and directed toward areas of high returns,” says a memo released by the Office of Management and Budget. [Washington Whispers: GSA Heads Slammed During Congressional Hearing]

The OMB is asking government agencies to cut travel expenses by 30 percent before 2013, part of the plan which it estimates will save the government $1.2 billion.

The new guidelines also outline additional safeguards to protect against wasteful spending. Within each agency, the deputy secretary is now required to scrutinize budgets for conferences in which an agency anticipates to spend more than $100,000.

“I think it is clear that this is a direct response to the GSA,” says Dan Epstein, the Executive Director of Cause of Action, a group committed to tracking government spending and abuses, “It outlines conferences and travel…It is rather telling.”

The OMB’s new restrictions also prohibit federal agencies from spending more than $500,000 on conferences unless the head of the agency approves it, a safeguard that may have prevented the GSA abuses.

During congressional oversight hearings on the GSA incident, former GSA Chief Martha Johnson, who resigned over the incident, says she wasn’t aware of the excessive spending underway until after the lavish gifts and dinners were already purchased.