Federal Agencies Spent $334M on Advisory Committees in 2014
Outside experts generally earn special pay for their trouble.
Federal agencies spent $334 million on 825 advisory committees in fiscal 2014, according to a new report.
The number of federal advisory committees -- established to “allow experts from outside the federal government to provide advice and recommendations” -- generally hover around 1,000 annually, with about 70,000 members. Last year, advisory committees had more than 68,000 members, according to the Congressional Research Service report.
The costs per committee ranged from $100 to more than $22 million.
“Experts” outside of federal government generally earn special pay for their time advising agencies. Uncle Sam paid $33 million to nonfederal committee members in fiscal 2014, and spent an additional $43 million on their travel and per diems.
The committees have attempted to cut costs by holding more virtual meetings; CRS noted that webcasts have increased 600 percent since fiscal 2012. The legislative branch’s think tank suggested other ways to reduce costs, including by cutting the pay for “representatives” of the private sector, state or local government, or a nonprofit organization.
These individuals serve as “advocates for nonfederal entities,” and are immune from many ethics requirements placed on other federal employees. CRS said Congress should consider barring those members from earning salaries, though it noted it could hamper agencies’ ability to recruit qualified individuals.
Executive branch agencies are collectively prohibited from creating more than 534 advisory committees, CRS said, pointing to the General Services Administration’s interpretation of an executive order by former President Bill Clinton. Congress and the president, however, can create an unlimited number of committees. Agencies themselves authorized 241 advisory committees last year, compared with 515 required by statute and 43 created by the White House.
All told, agencies maintained 989 advisory committees in fiscal 2014, though only 825 were active and held meetings. Each agency has its own cap on the number of committees it can create. The Health and Human Services Department -- largely at the National Institutes of Health -- had more than one-quarter of all the committees, more than any other agency.
The advisory committees held more than 7,000 meetings last year. More of those meetings -- 71 percent --- were closed to the public since CRS began measuring them in 2004.
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