Leaders of 62 Scientific and Engineering Associations Ask Congress to Modify Restrictive Government Travel Rules Written 29 May 2013

(AIAA Communciations 2008–2017)

OMB Memo's Restrictions on Attending Professional Conferences Threaten Vital National Interests

May 29, 2013 – Reston, Va. – Leaders of 64 scientific, engineering, and technology associations today sent a letter to House and Senate leaders, calling for a reform of the government personnel travel rules recently 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 Congress to change existing travel rules so as to support government employee travel to scientific and technical conferences. They request “Congress’s support of these open exchanges of information, establishing legislative guidance that exempts federal employee travel to conferences, seminars, and meetings where attendance promotes agency interests as well as professional development and competency of government scientists, engineers, or other specialized experts.” They further request that Congress “clarify that Memorandum M-12-12’s 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 agreements.”

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.  

Taking the lead role in bringing together the organizations seeking relief from the harmful consequences of the OMB memorandum was the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). AIAA Executive Director Sandy Magnus stated: “AIAA and its members, along with 62 other scientific and engineering organizations, have asked Congress to modify OMB rules that affect the ability of government employees to attend scientific and technical conferences. These conferences foster and encourage collaborative processes that are 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.”

AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. With more than 35,000 individual members worldwide, and100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit www.aiaa.org, or follow us on Twitter @AIAA.