House Passes Amendments To Limit Number of Federal Employees Attending International Conferences
The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved two amendments to spending bills limiting the number of federal employees who can attend international conferences, the Washington Times reports. The House last week approved the fiscal year 2005 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill (HR 5006) with an amendment that limits the number of federal health employees permitted to attend international health conferences to 50. In addition, the House in July approved the FY 2005 foreign operations spending bill (HR 4818) with an amendment that limits to 50 the number of State Department employees who can attend an international conference. "My constituents often ask me why Congress continues to spend so much, despite the fact that we have a deficit and an ever-growing national debt," Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), who sponsored both amendments, said, adding, "The amendments represent common sense and fiscal discipline." Garrett said he hoped the measures would help avoid situations such as one that occurred at the XIV International AIDS Conference in 2002, when more than 200 HHS employees attended the conference in Barcelona, Spain, at a cost of $3.6 million.
The legislation "seemed to catch some Bush administration officials by surprise," as HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson already had instituted such a policy change, the Times reports (Howard Price, Washington Times, 9/14). HHS in March announced plans to spend $500,000 to send 50 people to the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand -- down from the $3.6 million it spent to send 236 people to the 2002 conference. Dozens of presentations had to be withdrawn because U.S. scientists could not attend, and many training sessions for researchers from developing countries had to be canceled, according to the Post (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/9). "If Congress wants to take action, that's its right ... [b]ut we already have a policy in place that makes sure money is spent in the most effective and efficient manner, and we don't know if this [amendment] will survive," HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said. John Scofield, spokesperson for the House Committee on Appropriations, said the amendments are "bad policy, since there are no security exclusions," the Times reports. "We're very sympathetic to concerns about agencies abusing travel ... but to do a blanket prohibition [on conference attendance] is not the best approach," he said. If the bills containing the amendments are signed into law, the caps will affect any attendance at foreign conferences held in FY 2005, which begins on Oct. 1. Attendance at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto will not be affected because it is scheduled for summer 2006 (Washington Times, 9/14).