OMB outlines federal worker travel rules

"There probably had been overreaction on the part of government agencies and federal employees, and their discouragement to attend meetings was probably an overreaction," said John Graham, chief executive of the American Society of Association Executives, an association trade group, who met with OMB officials about federal worker travel ahead of the guidance's release.

The amount of federal employees attending conferences had dropped by as much as 90 percent since last year, Graham added.

While workers should not view sequestration as imposing a "moratorium" on travel expenses, they should expect a "continued reduction in conference and travel activity" while the cuts are in effect, the OMB says in the new guidance.

The new notice is similar to a memorandum from the Office of Government Ethics released in recent weeks.

The OMB alert pushes agencies to look for cheap airline tickets and use "no-frills" services when sending workers to conferences, and directs them to investigate videoconferencing if possible.

Agencies must file reports to an inspector general on conference trips that cost employees over $20,000.

Conferences that cost over $100,000 need approval from deputy secretaries, and those over $500,000 need the go-ahead from the agency head.