May 17, 2012 - ASM Sends Letter to Congress on Government Scientist Travel Restriction Amendments

We are writing on behalf of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) to respectfully request that Congress revise amendments to legislation passed on April 25 by the House and Senate that would severely limit the ability of federal government employees to participate in research, public health and educational conferences and other types of external meetings within the scientific community.  These amendments were included in S. 1789, the “21st Century Postal Service Act,” and H.R. 2146, the “Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.”

The ASM is the largest single life science membership organization in the world with more than 38,000 members. The Society’s mission is to advance microbiological sciences through the pursuit of scientific knowledge and dissemination of the results of fundamental and applied research.

The ASM supports the intent of Congress to enhance transparency and accountability in federal agency spending.  The Society is concerned, however, that the amendments as currently drafted would seriously curtail the opportunities for the exchange of information and ideas and the valuable educational opportunities that conferences and meetings provide the scientific community.  The participation of federal employees in such conferences is invaluable to the advancement of science and the public interest. 

As currently drafted, the amendments would seem to be broader in scope than is necessary to meet the goals for the legislation.  Full implementation of the legislation’s restrictions could have unintended adverse consequences.  For example, the mandate in the draft legislation that “no agency may expend funds on more than a single conference sponsored or organized by an organization during any fiscal year, unless the agency is the primary sponsor or organizer of the conference sponsored by a scientific society,” would mean that if a federal employee attends one scientific conference, then no other employee of that same agency could go to any other scientific conference for that fiscal year.  This would have a serious impact on the scientific research and other initiatives of agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ASM respectfully suggests the following modifications to the amendments:

(A)  Section 1(D) currently is drafted in broad terms and includes within the ambit of the legislation virtually every type of external meeting involving federal agencies and scientific associations.  We suggest the definition be revised to encompass only meetings “sponsored solely by 1 or more agencies.”

(B) Section (4), “Limitation on the Annual Number of Conferences an Agency May Support,” as we discussed above, would prohibit federal agencies from sending employees to more than one conference sponsored by an organization during any fiscal year, unless the agency is the primary sponsor or organizer.  We suggest that this section be deleted from the amendments.

We thank you for your consideration of these suggestions.

Sincerely,

David C. Hooper, M.D., President, ASM
Roberto Kolter, Ph.D., Chair, Public and Scientific Affairs Board

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