US Government Employee Restrictions
AHS also worked with nearly 150 technical societies and research organizations on the issue of US federal travel restrictions, and the impacts on science and technology (S&T) conferences. The coalition was successful in altering legislation that otherwise would have made permanent the draconian restrictions prohibiting government employees from attending technical conferences:
(e) None of the funds made available in this or any other appropriations Act may be used for travel and conference activities that are not in compliance with Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-12-12 dated May 11, 2012 or any subsequent revisions to that memorandum.
This 2012 White House OMB policy directive M-12-12 has had severe negative impacts on the ability of US government employees to attend training, conferences and meetings. Intended to curtail wasteful government spending, a number of studies have indicated that the restrictions have caused further bureaucratic bloat. In many cases the government is spending more money monitoring, reviewing and preventing their engineers and scientists from attending S&T meetings than if local commands had the authority to determine the necessity of travel and conference participation.
Nonetheless, since “preventing US government employees from wasteful travel spending” made for good politics, some members of Congress have been advocating for tougher restrictions, as well as making the policy memo permanent and statutory. The coalition was able to add those critical seven extra words, which gives OMB the authority to update the guidelines. The coalition has already begun discussions intended to update the memo, and is advocating for an exemption for S&T conferences.
Fortunately, the Pentagon had already realized the unintended negative impacts of the M-12-12 directive and in September had released its updated “DoD Conference Guidance 3.0” to the military departments, which delegates approval thresholds to much lower levels. Although the Department of the Army had not yet updated its travel policies by press time, other services had.
AHS has also participated in efforts to quantify the negative impacts of the travel restrictions on the scientific community, national defense and technological capabilities. Another effort initiated by AHS aims to reverse the discouragement of US government employees from participating in technical committees, chairing technical sessions/conferences and otherwise engaging with the scientific community.
Updated Jan. 14, 2016