House to pass bill with $500K spending cap on agency conferences

The House will approve legislation this week that would put significant new restrictions on the ability of Executive Branch agencies to hold conferences, a reaction to several lavish conferences that Republicans have targeted as wasteful spending at a time of fiscal crisis.

The Government Spending Accountability Act, H.R. 4631, was introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), and would put a $500,000 cap on government conferences. However, this cap can be exceeded if the head of an agency determines that the expenditure is "justified as the most cost-effective option to achieve a compelling purpose," and submits that to Congress.

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The bill would also let agencies cover the travel expenses of only 50 agency employees for international conferences, "unless the Secretary of State determines that attendance for such employees is in the national interest."

Every three months, agencies would have to report to Congress on the details of conferences they've held. That report would have to include a list of participants, the location and also a "brief explanation of how the participation of employees from such agency at the conference advanced the mission of the agency."

The report would also have to include a description of why the location was chosen, and an explanation of why the location was cost efficient.

Republicans erupted at the news of several government conferences that cost more than $1 million, including one held by the General Services Administration in Las Vegas two years ago. More recently, Senate Republicans pressed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to cancel a conference in Hawaii — the Ninth Circuit did not cancel it, but did agree to cancel a planned 2013 conference.

Walsh's bill is one of many suspension bills that will be taken up in the House this week, and all will require a two-thirds vote for passage.

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