Groups want scientists exempted from strict conference spending rules

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New limits on conference spending are preventing federal scientists and engineers from collaborating and working on technical research, according to several organizations representing the scientific community.

In a letter dated Sept. 10, a group of scientific organizations asked the White House and members of Congress to exempt them from the restrictions on conferences. 

“We acknowledge the motivation behind these bills to prevent abuses and control expenses,” the letter said. “The restrictions outlined in them, however, will curtail important professional interactions that take place during scientific conferences and meetings attended by federal scientists and engineers in the course of their duties.”

The letter represented major scientific organizations including the U.S. Association for Computing Machinery, Computing Research Association, the U.S. branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

The New York Times noted Monday that many agencies -- including the Energy Department, NASA and some offices within the Defense Department -- attend conferences to share research with educational institutions and private groups. The Times said the federal government’s attendance at a supercomputing conference this year will be significantly limited because of the spending freezes.

Vinton Cerf, president of the ACM, told the Times that the new policy was a “terrible pennywise decision” and detrimental to scientific progress. 

“This is a problem not just for the computing research community, but for almost anyone who’s involved in scientific work,” Cerf told the Times. “The inability of the government researchers and program managers to participate in these conferences is actually very damaging.”

The limits were put in place by the Obama administration after reports of excessive spending by the General Services Administration

(Image via isak55/Shutterstock.com)

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