Society News Archive

29 July 2014
Impact of Federal Travel Restrictions

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has imposed travel restrictions on federal agencies (see Health Physics News, April 2013, page 12) that severely limit the ability of federal employees and federal contractors to attend Health Physics Society (HPS) annual and midyear meetings and affect all professional societies.

The HPS has undertaken three parallel efforts to oppose so-called "bipartisan" action to enact the OMB travel restrictions as federal law.

First, HPS Congressional Liaison David Connolly was authorized by HPS President Barbara Hamrick on behalf of the Society to sign onto a letter to Congress from the Energy Sciences Coalition, a group that Connolly attends on behalf of the Society. The Energy Science Coalition strongly opposes the travel restrictions.

Second, the Society participates with the Council of Scientific Societies, which has prepared strongly worded objections to the OMB policy and the proposed Senate bill. Council members have been visiting monthly with congressional staff on the travel-restriction issue. The Council of Scientific Societies represents 62 professional societies and science-education groups and has a total membership of about 1.4 million.

Third, HPS has joined a second broad coalition of professional societies as a signatory to a letter to the chair and cochair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs that adequately sets forth the Society's position. One part of the letter states:

The Coburn-Heitkamp substitute to S. 1347, Conference Accountability Act of 2013, would raise existing barriers and perpetuate unintended negative consequences the Administration's regulations have already imposed on our scientific enterprise and national competitiveness.

Scientific and technical conferences help maintain a "talented and interconnected workforce"—one of the three critical pillars of a vibrant, economically productive scientific enterprise identified in the National Research Council's Furthering America's Research Enterprise report. These conferences promote collaborations between federal scientists and those in private industry and academia, provide for rapid dissemination of federally funded research results, and provide high-quality professional development for the next generation of scientists and engineers.

For federal employees also involved in program management, conferences are cost-effective venues for overseeing multiple projects in one location, disseminating information about agency policies and programs, and gathering information on the most promising research directions to guide smart decisions when allocating federal research funding.

Since the implementation of restrictive travel policies in OMB Memorandum M-12-12, conference participation by scientists and engineers who are also federal employees has dropped precipitously. This—in conjunction with the ongoing sequestration cuts to federal research investments—has led to canceled conferences and fewer speaking invitations for government scientists, slowing scientific progress and diminishing the stature of U.S. science agencies at home and abroad.