January 13, 2014 - ASM Comments on Government Travel Restrictions

The Honorable Thomas R. Carper
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6250

Re: Hearing on “Examining Conference and Travel Spending Across the Federal Government”

Dear Senator Carper:

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) would like to submit comments for the record concerning the importance of federal government employees’ participation in research, public health and educational conferences and other types of external meetings within the scientific community.

The ASM is the largest single life science membership organization in the world with more than 39,000 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 restrictive travel policies will 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.

The participation of federally employed scientists in professional meetings allows them to interact with colleagues from universities and industry and facilitates the exchange of knowledge that is essential to their jobs, innovation and the national interest. The purpose of scientific conferences and meetings is to allow communication across industry, academia and government. Conferences also allow young professionals to present their research and to access the knowledge and expertise of senior investigators. The role that scientific meetings play in the professional development of scientists and the advancement of disciplines is critically important to the Nation’s interests and to scientific progress.

The absence of government employees at scientific meetings hinders scientific progress on which the US economy, our national security, and the health of the American and global population depend. The ASM has a major national conference on biodefense and emerging diseases that is critical for the development of countermeasures to protect the military and civilians against bioterrorism and newly emerging pathogens. Last year, scientists from the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) were unable to attend the meeting even though it was held in Washington, DC and that has had a potentially negative impact on US preparedness.

We urge Congress and the Administration to place a high priority on scientific research and not to adopt restrictive policies that impede the ability of government scientists to participate in professional meetings and conferences. To do so will have a negative impact on US science. We appreciate the opportunity to provide a statement for the hearing record and would be pleased to assist the Committee in any way possible as it deliberates on government travel issues.


Jeffery Miller, Ph.D., President, ASM

Ronald M. Atlas, Ph.D., Chair
Public and Scientific Affairs Board