A piece of legislation that could potentially curtail the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) ability to hold conferences has passed the US House of Representatives, reports The Hill.
The legislation, the Government Spending Accountability Act (GSA Act), comes on the heels of a scandal in which members of the Government Services Administration (GSA) held a conference that was held up by some congressmen as being a prominent example of governmental waste and excess. The GSA conference allegedly featured a clown, a mind reader and $7,000 in sushi rolls, among other excesses.
The episode led to inter-governmental reforms initiated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which ordered agencies to slash their conference travel budgets and institute spending safeguards meant to ensure high-level accountability for conference spending.
The GSA Act, passed in a nearly unanimous vote on 11 September, would require agencies to report to Congress on a quarterly basis regarding conferences attended by the agencies, including expenses incurred, the sponsor of the conference, the location of the conference and an explanation of the conference.
Agencies would also be banned from spending more than $500,000 to host a single conference under the act, potentially making it difficult to host larger conferences or ones free to the public. The same restriction is already in place under OMB rules, but the legislation would effectively codify them into law. Under the rules, FDA would still be able to jointly host a conference so long as its expenses do not exceed the $500,000 limit.
Science Advocates: Bill Would Harm Professional Development
The reforms have led to some push-back from media commentators and scientific advocates. In a May 2012 article, Washington Post commentator Joe Davidson opined, "At some point, it's worth asking whether the effort to limit conferences and travel spending could hurt the need of government employees to gain the training and information required to better serve the public."
Davidson's sentiments were echoed in September 2012 by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), which said it would hinder the ability of scientists to stay current on advances in their respective fields.
"If adopted, HR 4631 would impede the professional development of government scientists, hamper the ability of research agency staff to monitor scientific developments and make appropriate funding decisions based on new research, and reduce communication among researchers," said Judith Bond, president of FASEB. "This bill would also place new restrictions on the ability of federal agencies to support conferences aimed at advancing the national research agenda."
Just one congressman, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), opposed the bill, and cited similar arguments in remarks to The Hill.
"I oppose this bill because it would make significant changes to federal employees' ability to travel to conferences and meetings," Holt said. "We should be spending more on international conferences. We should be spending more on national conferences."
The GSA Act now heads to the Senate for a possible vote.