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Bill to limit conference and travel costs wouldn’t actually save money

GSA Act would shift expenses to telecom and IT, CBO says.

Legislation to cap agency conference costs and limit travel would not actually save money, the Congressional Budget Office said Friday.

The 2012 General Services Administration Act (H.R. 4631) was introduced in April by Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., after details surfaced about extravagant spending on a 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas.

The bill would limit agencies’ non-military travel budgets to 70 percent of 2010 levels and require quarterly reports on all conference-related travel. Under the legislation, agencies would be prohibited from spending more than $500,000 on a single conference -- the 2010 event cost GSA $820,000. Departments also would have to post to their websites presentation materials from conferences federal employees attend.

CBO determined the extra reporting requirements and attempts to avoid travel would create new costs. “The legislation would likely shift spending on travel to other categories, such as telecommunications and computer technologies,” the estimate said. CBO expected “that such a limitation on travel expenditures would not result in significantly less total spending by federal agencies.”

CBO said implementing the bill would have no significant effect on the federal budget, adding that any change in costs resulting from the legislation would be determined by future appropriation acts.

Walsh’s office did not respond before publication to requests for comment. In late June, after the bill passed out of committee, the congressman said his legislation targeted a culture of waste and abuse in Washington. “The government should be setting an example of fiscal responsibility instead of lavishly spending taxpayer money,” Walsh said at that time.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who supported the bill in committee, said Congress’ intent is for federal agencies to economize on travel expenses and not spend the money on other programs. “The bill directs agencies to reduce travel spending by 30 percent, so savings certainly are expected,” he said after the CBO estimate, adding that the “one GSA conference and the actions of a few do not and should not reflect poorly on our dedicated federal workforce.”

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