|Leaders of 53 Scientific and Engineering Associations Ask Obama Administration to Amend Government Travel Rules
OMB Memo's Restrictions on Attending Professional Conferences Threaten Vital National Interests
April 23, 2013 – Reston, Va. – Leaders of 53 scientific, engineering, and technology associations today sent a letter to Sylvia Burwell, the director designate of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), calling for a reform of the government personnel travel rules imposed by OMB Memorandum M-12-12. Issued in the wake of the scandal that arose from a General Services Administration event held in Las Vegas, the OMB memorandum strictly limits the ability of government employees to attend professional conferences.
The organizations are asking the Administration to change its existing travel rules so as to support government employee travel to scientific and technical conferences. They ask that OMB rules be amended to “specifically exempt federal employee travel to conferences, seminars, and meetings where attendance promotes agency interests as well as the professional development and competency of government scientists, engineers, or other specialized experts.” They also request that the language of the memorandum be clarified so that the “definition of meetings does not cover meetings involving Federal Advisory Committees, the National Academies, standards-setting bodies, industry-government workshops and conferences, or official international engagements.”
As the OMB memorandum is currently being interpreted and implemented, they said, it is hampering “the open exchange of ideas among scientists, engineers, and technologists, and thereby adversely affecting important national interests by throttling back on the U.S. innovation engine.” They added:
||The purpose of scientific and engineering conferences is to foster and encourage these vital collaborative interactions. They serve as the focal point of scientific and engineering communication across industry, academia, and government. The formal presentation of peer-reviewed research, the casual conversations that occur while attending meetings, and the ability to expand one’s horizons and examine problems in a new light result in unanticipated and important connections being forged, not only in technical arenas, but also in policy and program areas. It is precisely this kind of unanticipated stimulation that led to the commercial use of GPS satellites for telecommunications, for automotive and maritime location assistance, and a myriad of other commercial applications of a technology originally developed for military purposes.
AIAA Executive Director Sandra H. Magnus stated: “AIAA and its members, along with 52 other scientific and engineering organizations, have asked the OMB to modify its rules pertaining to the ability of government employees to attend scientific and technical conferences. These conferences foster and encourage collaborative processes vital to innovation in the scientific and engineering professions. I am confident that the reforms proposed in this letter will continue to ensure that government funds are spent wisely and judiciously, while also allowing the types of conversations and exchanges of technical knowledge that lead to better ways to treat disease, explore the heavens, move commerce across our nation and world, and to continue to impact our society in a positive way.”
To read the letter and view the list of signatories, click here.